Heydon Hall farmer could have been saved, inquest told

A Norfolk landowner and farmer who died aged 40 could have been saved if his doctor had sent him straight to hospital, an inquest heard.

Benjamin Bulwer-Long, who lived at Heydon Hall in north Norfolk, visited Reepham GP Dr Barbra Kelly just hours before he was pronounced dead at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. At yesterday's Norwich inquest, Dr Kelly said her opinion was that he had suffered a muscle strain and she told him not to exercise for up to 10 days and to take ibuprofen for the pain. However, the inquest heard that she dismissed the findings of an ECG (electrocardiogram – a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart) which suggested that the father-of-four had a serious heart problem.

Mr Bulwer-Long's widow Rhona told the inquest her husband had visited the doctor at about 11am on Monday, May 17, last year.

She said on the previous Saturday night he had a terrible night sweat and he suffered chest pains throughout the night on Sunday and and his heart was racing.

The next morning she urged him to call the doctor and he arranged for an appointment at about 11am.

After seeing the doctor he went home and had lunch with his wife, but on his way to a meeting in Aylsham he collapsed in his car and his vehicle was found by a lorry driver on a grass verge in Henry Page Road, Aylsham, just after 2pm. The driver called 999 and Mr Bulwer-Long was pronounced dead at the N&N at about 3.15pm.

The inquest heard the cause of death was myocarditis, an inflammation of the muscular wall of the heart. Possible causes of this rare disease include a viral infection, and the inquest heard that Mr Bulwer-Long had suffered a cold the week before. Professor Roger Hall, a cardiologist from the UEA, said that the ECG findings should have acted as a 'red flag'. He said: 'I believe that if he had been taken straight to hospital he would have been saved.

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'There was ample time for him to get to hospital after being seen by the doctor at 11am.

'The ECG showed signs of some problem with the heart and it should have been in the mind of any doctor that the likely cause was an early heart attack, even if, in this case, that was not what happened. That was also what the computer's interpretation of the ECG was. Any cardiologist would have seen it and it would have been like a red flag.'

Dr Kelly, who has been a GP in Reepham for 26 years, said Mr Bulwer-Long only told her on May 17 that he had discomfort in his chest and that he had not been sweating. She said: 'It did not look like a heart attack on the ECG and did not look different to previous ECGs he had.'

She examined him and took his pulse and heartbeat which she said were both normal. 'Had I known that he had suffered crushing chest pains and been sweating I would have sent him straight to hospital,' she added.

Norfolk coroner William Armstrong recorded a verdict of death by natural causes, but told the inquest that some very important evidence had been given at the hearing which could leave it open for further action to be taken in a different court.

He said there was a major difference between what Dr Kelly and Mrs Bulwer-Long told the inquest, and that if the doctor was correct, Mr Bulwer-Long must have given her misleading information about his condition.

As previously reported, Norwich Cathedral was packed for a memorial service and Mr Bulwer-Long's daughter, Letitia, gave a talk about her father.