A Warwickshire couple have received an out-of-court settlement after a doctor and paramedics failed to recognise their baby son had meningitis. Health Correspondent Emma Brady reports.
"This should never have happened, we did everything right yet everything went wrong for Liam. If meningitis had been diagnosed earlier, he’d still be with us now. Instead we had to watch him die."
Doting father Dean Eaves, who lives in Stoke Green, Coventry, still struggles to comprehend what happened to his nine-month-old son, who died less than 24 hours after he was first seen by a local GP. Liam had a persistent cough, was shuddering and his skin was grey when his mother, Rachael Eaves took him to the family’s surgery, the Forum Health Centre, on August 18, 2004.
Dr Kuba Julius Ebo failed to spot the tell-tale symptoms and wrote it off as an ear infection, prescribing a course of penicillin.
A few hours later Liam’s condition had worsened and he had a rash on his left thigh, which did not clear when Mrs Eaves rolled a glass over his skin, and so she went back to Dr Ebo, who assured her the youngster was fine.
But that night he was violently sick, so the couple called NHS Direct, who sent an ambulance. The couple claimed the paramedics made them feel they were "over-reacting".
Speaking for the first time about their son's death after receiving a five-figure out-of-court settlement on Tuesday, Mr Eaves, a 28-year-old tool maker, said: "They made us feel very small and after briefly examining Liam said he didn’t have meningitis."
Mrs Eaves, a student at Warwick University, added: "They did say they could take him to hospital but felt it wasn’t really necessary, so we didn’t go and reluctantly accepted their advice. I was really made to feel as if we were over-reacting."
Liam was put to bed but when Mrs Eaves checked on him at 11pm, she saw the rash had spread into big purple patches and so called NHS Direct again.
This second ambulance crew realised the baby’s condition was critical and rushed him to Walsgrave Hospital, in Coventry, but he died shortly after.
Mrs Eaves said: "The doctors at the Walsgrave worked really hard to save him but they warned me he might not survive."
Liam died at 3.45am, on August 19, from meningococcal septicaemia, and the couple contacted Dr Ebo later that day, to tell him Liam had died.
Mrs Eaves said: "When I said Liam had died his immediate response was ’If I sent every child with suspected meningitis to hospital then every hospital ward would be full.’ I was shocked."
"I think both Dr Ebo and the first paramedics thought we were panicky parents who seek medical help for every cough or cold, which isn’t the case," added Mr Eaves.
"This was never about the money, it’s about making parents aware of the symptoms and that they may not be taken seriously by medical professionals who they trust."
As a result of Liam’s death, Dr Ebo was referred to the Healthcare Ombudsman, who criticised his standard of note-keeping and raised ’training concerns.’
He now practises at another surgery. The couple are set to refer him to the General Medical Council to investigate his fitness to practice.
West Midlands Ambulance Service also investigated the paramedics’ conduct and again identified training needs. The trust’s Assessment, Treat and Refer policy has been changed so all call-outs to children aged under two are taken to hospital for medical assessment.
A spokesman said: "We regret that the treatment provided to Liam Eaves was below the standard that he and his parents were entitled to expect.
"Given Liam’s symptoms and the concerns raised about him by his parents, he should have been conveyed to hospital and if he had been then, it is likely that he would have survived."
Guy Forster, a medical negligence expert with Birmingham-based law firm Irwin Mitchell, who represented the family, said: "Rachael and Dean went through every parent’s worst nightmare and had to endure the sight of watching their son die.
"Their grief has been compounded by the knowledge that his life would in all likelihood have been saved if his condition had been correctly diagnosed earlier.
"They were persuaded by both their GP and ambulance staff that they were over-reacting."n For more information about meningitis, its symptoms and treatment, www.meningitis-trust.org and www.meningitisuk.org