A disabled teenager died after an ambulance crew failed to spot the signs of deadly sepsis.
Paramedics spent 45 minutes treating Victoria Nice but did not take her to hospital despite the fact she had been vomiting and was delirious at times.
Her parents called another ambulance the following morning but by the time the 19-year-old arrived in intensive care it was too late to save her. Victoria’s family were forced to take the agonising decision to switch off her life-support machine.
Sepsis, which kills 44,000 Britons a year, is caused when the body launches a violent immune response to an infection, causing it to attack the organs.
East of England Ambulance Service paramedics spent 45 minutes treating Victoria Nice but did not take her to hospital despite the fact she had been vomiting and was delirious at times
The NHS issued new guidelines in March for patients showing signs of the condition to be seen quickly by a senior doctor, following the Daily Mail’s End the Sepsis Scandal campaign. It was launched after the death of 12-month-old William Mead when inexperienced NHS 111 call handlers failed to realise he needed urgent help.
Crucial that everyone understands the risks
Victoria’s mother, Katrina, yesterday said it was crucial that everyone recognised the symptoms and understood the risks. ‘The paramedics didn’t say that it was urgent because she didn’t seem that ill,’ she said.
‘I thought they were doing a fine job because I’d never heard of sepsis. Now, I’d look at it and say ‘Hang on a minute…’. That’s what we’ve got to get across to people.’
Victoria had spina bifida and hydrocephalus – a build-up of fluid on the brain – and needed complex medical treatment.
She had been in hospital last year after developing a urinary tract infection but was discharged with instructions to take a course of oral antibiotics.
Days after returning home to Baldock, Hertfordshire, she started vomiting and her mother called 999 at around 10pm on September 20.
After assessing her the ambulance crew offered the choice to take her to hospital or arrange an out-of-hours GP appointment.
Her family opted for the latter because Victoria seemed to have rallied and was ‘exhausted’.
A turn for the worse
The next morning, she took a turn for the worse and Mrs Nice, who was her full-time carer, called for another ambulance.
The crew noticed the teenager’s feet was cold and discoloured and rushed her to Lister Hospital in Stevenage where she was taken to the intensive care unit and placed in an induced coma.
‘THINK HARD BEFORE CALLING 999’
In September, a number of GPs reacted furiously after being asked not to call 999 for patients by their over-stretched ambulance service.
The South East Coast Ambulance Service sent a letter to Kent doctors asking them to ‘think very hard’ before calling an ambulance for patients.
GPs usually dial 999 in an emergency such as a heart attack or a stroke, or if a patient is in too much pain or too frail to take themselves to A&E.
Strood GP Dr Julian Spinks said it was a worrying sign before the peak winter season started.
‘A GP will not call an ambulance for the fun of it, they will only order one when they have to,’ he said.
Doctors told Mrs Nice and her husband Philip, a patent examiner, that it was too late to treat her, however, and they agreed to turn off the life-support machine.
The case is the latest controversy involving East of England Ambulance Service, which has been criticised for missing emergency response targets and spending huge sums on luxury cars for bosses.
No legal action
But Mr and Mrs Nice, who also have a son, decided against taking legal action and instead took part in a meeting last week with the trust’s board at the headquarters near Cambridge.
‘It wasn’t going to bring her back if we sued anybody and we wanted something positive to come out of this,’ Mrs Nice said yesterday.
The timeline was outlined at the meeting, which heard an investigation had followed Victoria’s death and had led to recommendations for front-line crew to look out for sepsis and for the illness to be ‘brought to the forefront of the trust’s focus’.
Admitting the blunder
Trust chairman Sarah Boulton said: ‘The trust board takes its duty of candour very seriously. It is never easy to admit mistakes, especially when those mistakes have such tragic consequences.
‘However, our values dictate we must be open and honest when something has gone wrong and we must do everything in our power to help ensure these mistakes never happen again.’
Head of clinical quality Tracy Nicholls added: ‘We would like to thank Katrina for her incredible bravery by being so open about this tragic incident and working with us to learn from this.
‘We felt it absolutely right to offer Katrina a forum to speak to our staff and help the organisation learn more about sepsis.
‘She not only spoke at the board meeting but has also taken part in a frank and honest video interview that will be shared internally to support training.’
Victoria’s family have set up a fundraising webpage to raise money for a charity that operates boats with wheelchair access. Donations can be made here.