Parents’ “three years of hell” after death of daughter wrongly diagnosed with swine flu by paramedic

A mother and father yesterday described how they had endured 'three years of hell' following the death of their daughter who was wrongly diagnosed with swine flu.

The mother of two-year-old Georgia Keeling from West Earlham was told by a paramedic during the height of the swine flu scare in August 2009 that her daughter had the disease and sent an ambulance away from the family's home in Rockingham Road.

But less than four hours, later Georgia collapsed and died from a rare form of blood poisoning before she could reach the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital – a three minute ambulance journey away.

At an inquest yesterday, Norfolk coroner William Armstrong said the toddler had been failed by an 'inadequate' examination from the paramedic Patricia Perfect.

And speaking after the inquest, Georgia's father, Paul Sewell, said the family had been 'let down by one person' rather than the NHS.

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He said: 'The last three years have been like hell. We had to continually bring up all the bad instead of enjoying the good.'

Mr Sewell, a salesman, added he was reassured that the East of England Ambulance Service, who have apologised for the mistake, had made improvements.

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'That was one of my main goals - to improve the level of care,' he said.

A statement from Georgia's mother, Natasha Keeling, and Mr Sewell described how they had seen the 'best and worst' of the NHS on the day of their daughter's death.

They said: 'Nobody knows a child like their parent. We are saddened that, despite our best instincts, the ambulance trust failed to provide adequate care and that, had adequate care been provided, it is likely that Georgia would still be alive.

'We are pleased that the ambulance trust has apologised for the failing of the first emergency care practitioner who saw Georgia; we are only sorry that it has taken three years for the Trust to have done so.

'It is our hope that as a result of the lessons learned from what has happened to Georgia, this will not happen to anyone else.'

The case took three years to get to the inquest as the two sides were seeking independent medical opinions over the two-year-old's death.

Yesterday, coroner Mr Armstrong recorded a narrative verdict and described Georgia's death as a 'desperate tragedy'.

The verdict read: 'The fact that Georgia was not admitted to hospital immediately following the examination and assessment by the emergency care practitioner, thereby depriving her of urgent necessary intensive in-patient treatment, reduced the prospect of her surviving her illness and therefore contributed to her death.'

When Georgia woke on the morning of August 4 2009 her mother noticed a rash on her legs.

During the day two different GP surgeries were called, as well as NHS Direct and the swine flu hotline.

When paramedic Patricia Perfect arrived at 11.30am following a 999 call, she ruled out anything more serious than swine flu, as the rash on the youngster's skin disappeared when she pushed down on it with her thumbs.

Giving evidence on Tuesday, Miss Perfect apologised for the mistake, but said she was following NHS guidelines when she made the diagnosis.

She added that swine flu had been at the front of medics' minds and they had been told to not admit patients with the illness to hospital.

But yesterday two doctors, Professor John Kroll and Dr Jeffrey Perrin, told the inquest that by failing to admit her to hospital, Georgia's chances of survival had been dramatically reduced.

Georgia died from a rare form of blood poisoning called Group A Streptococcol Septicaemia, which can lead to meningitis.

Dr Pamela Chrispin, medical director and deputy chief executive at the East of England Ambulance Service, offered her 'deepest condolences' to Georgia's family.

She said many children with fever and a rash are safely seen, treated and left at home.

Dr Chrispin said the ambulance service had apologised for the shortcomings and was pleased the coroner had acknowledged the progress that had been made.

'In Georgia's case we accept that, although the paramedic carried out an assessment and followed national guidance, she could have identified the potential for Georgia to become more seriously ill and arranged urgent admission to hospital,' Dr Chrispin said.

'She has since undergone a period of retraining and evaluation and has returned to frontline duties.

'This is a difficult area for all healthcare professionals involved in the assessment of children in the community and, as in this case, sadly there is occasionally a tragic outcome.

'Since Georgia's death the East of England Ambulance Service have taken additional steps to help our staff recognise and manage seriously ill children.

'We are the leading ambulance service in the UK to work with the international Surviving Sepsis campaign, which promotes the early identification and treatment of sepsis.'

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