Parents sue health chiefs over missed opportunities to save daughter

Lauren Walker
Lauren Walker
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THE heartbroken parents of a teenage girl who died after suffering a brain condition which medics treated as migraines are to sue health chiefs for medical negligence after an inquest heard she could have been saved by a scan.

Lauren Walker, 13, died in her sleep last October — three weeks after she started suffering from severe headaches.

She was seen at Sheffield Children’s Hospital twice and visited her GP but her symptoms - including slurred speech and vomiting - were treated as migraines.

A post mortem examination revealed Lauren, of Sheffield, South Yorks., actually had hydrocephalus - a build-up of fluid on the brain — after being born with an undiagnosed defect which meant it was unable to drain away.

The pathologist who examined Lauren’s body concluded she died from a gastric haemorrhage caused by a combination of painkillers to relieve her headaches and her brain condition.

He said a routine CT or MRI scan could have picked up her condition, which could have been treated with surgery.

Julian Fox, assistant deputy coroner, said: “Questions were asked to identify red flag symptoms, but none were identified.

“As a result Lauren was discharged and an opportunity was missed for further investigations to be carried out into the cause of her symptoms.”

Recording a narrative verdict, he said Lauren died from the effects of hydrocephalus and the painkillers she took to alleviate the headaches it gave her. He said Lauren had sought help, but her condition was not diagnosed.

During the two-day inquest in Sheffield, Lauren’s mum, Theresa Flint, revealed she had comforted Lauren on the night she died after the youngster complained of a headache.

She placed a cool flannel on her head and remained at her side until she fell asleep.

When she checked on her daughter the following morning last October she found her unresponsive.

Lauren’s devastated dad Mark Walker battled in vain to revive her but she could not be saved.

He said that, three weeks earlier, when Lauren first fell ill and an ambulance was called, she had a headache and slurred speech.

He said he told Lauren’s mum at the time she “needed a scan”.

A trainee doctor and a consultant at Sheffield Children’s Hospital both told the inquest they agreed a scan could have helped with diagnosis.

Dr Katharine Nunn and Mr Chris Fitzsimmons, who worked in A&E when Lauren was first taken to hospital on September 25, said they decided to admit her and referred her to the inpatient paediatric team.

Both said although they discussed the possibility of a scan, neither told the paediatric team of their thoughts.

Mr Fitzsimmons, a consultant in paediatric emergency medicine, said: “My expectation was they probably would scan Lauren, but it was not my place to tell them to.”

He said he felt “comfortable they were doing the right thing” referring the case on.

Dr Nunn said she had considered a number of possible reasons for Lauren’s illness, including migraines, a brain tumour and trauma.

Following a second episode of illness the inquest heard Lauren went to see her GP, Dr Ngozi Anumba, at Woodhouse Health Centre, on October 8.

Dr Anumba said she was told by Lauren and her mum that the teen had been diagnosed with migraine, so prescribed migraine prevention medication.

“My impression was it was a firm diagnosis,” said the doctor. “Her mum told me Lauren had had all the tests, and they told me it was migraine.

“I thought Lauren had had a scan - I didn’t know she had not had one.

“I didn’t get the impression there was any uncertainty about the diagnosis.”

Lauren’s mum, who sobbed as she described her daughter, said she was a member of a dance school and an athletics club, and “perfect”.

“She was doing well at school, she was athletic, she did lots of sports. She was a very kind, giving girl,” she said.

“She was just so kind, she had lots of friends.”

Lauren’s parents said after the case: “We feel so let down by the NHS trust. We believe Lauren would still be here if she had been scanned. We deserve an apology from the trust.”

Jim Gladman, of Switalskis Solicitors, representing them, said: “The assistant coroner noted that Lauren’s discharge from hospital was a lost opportunity for investigation of her symptoms.

“After hearing the evidence, the family believe that there should have been an urgent CT scan and that this would have diagnosed Lauren’s condition, leading to an urgent operation.

“Further questions now arise as to whether Lauren would still be alive if appropriate action had been taken.

“The family will be pursing a claim for medical negligence.”

Speaking after the inquest, Professor Derek Burke, of the children’s hospital, said: “We accept the coroner’s conclusions and have identified a number of changes which will be implemented.

“Additional training will be added to our junior doctor training programme and a review of our guidelines on managing patients with headache will take place.

“On behalf of the Trust, I offer our sincere condolences to the family of Lauren.”