By Sairah Masud
A MOTHER who lost her son due to negligence by medical staff has welcomed a move for more transparency from the NHS in order to stop what it describes are “preventable” hospital deaths.
Selina Khan from Birmingham, lost her 14-year-old son Sarmad due to a misdiagnosis and lack of appropriate treatment at a Birmingham hospital in 2016.
Khan told Eastern Eye the new system is “a step in the right direction” in learning from patient deaths and making sure the same mistakes are not repeated.
“I definitely think the NHS needs to have this system because I can only imagine how many more families there must be who have suffered like mine,” she said.
“There needs to be a system where there’s more communication between different staff at different hospitals and sharing information across the board.
It’s simple, silly mistakes like these that can have a detrimental effect on people’s lives. Something definitely needs to change.”
Her comments come after health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced last week that the NHS is to become the first health organisation in the world to publish the number of avoidable deaths in hospitals.
The new initiative seeks to better protect patients and their families by giving an “open and
honest” account of how many deaths might have been caused by problems in care.
Hunt said despite being ranked as the world’s safest healthcare system for a second time, the NHS still “has a long way to go”.
“Too often I have heard families saying that after mistakes happen, they feel like a wall has gone up in the NHS, but publishing this data will help give grieving families the openness and answers they deserve,” he said.
“It marks a significant milestone in ensuring the NHS learns from every tragic case, sharing lessons across the whole system to prevent mistakes recurring and ultimately delivering safer care for all patients in the future.”
Sarmad, who was constantly falling ill, was referred to hospital by his GP, and a scan detected an anomaly in his heart.
“(The doctors) saw a shadow on his heart and they weren’t sure what it was. Instead of reviewing it straight away to find out, they rebooked him for another scan in two weeks’ time,” Khan recalled.
After a week, during which time Sarmad’s symptoms continued to worsen, he was admitted to the same hospital for treatment. Khan was eventually told that her son had pneumonia.
“We all started panicking because as far as we knew, pneumonia is a really serious condition and can cause death if not treated early,” she said.
“I saw staff injecting him with all sorts of medication. As a mother, it was really upsetting to see my son go through all of that.”
During his treatment, Sarmad frequently complained about heart pains, but his complaints were disregarded by medical staff as a side effect to the drugs he was being given.
“He kept telling us he was feeling sharp, shooting pains in his chest. I told the doctors,
but nobody listened.
They just kept brushing it off as a side effect to the medication and naturally, you put your trust in the staff because you assume that as professionals, they know what they are doing,” Khan said.
Since he was showing no signs of recovery, Sarmad was transferred to a Midlands hospital five days later, but he suffered a heart attack en route in the ambulance.
When he arrived, the staff correctly diagnosed his heart condition and recommended that he be seen by a specialist heart doctor at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
It was while he was being transferred to that facility that Sarmad suffered from a second heart attack which proved fatal.
“We were all completely destroyed. The doctor he was supposed to see actually said that had he come even two days earlier, he could have been treated, but of course, now it was too late. That was heart-breaking for me to hear,” she said.
Khan believes that had Sarmad’s symptoms been identified correctly by medical staff, he could have been saved.
“They didn’t outright say they could have saved him, but it didn’t need to be said. They just said it was unfortunate that he had this heart condition and it could have been treated if detected earlier.
“I felt so much anger and just completely broke down. It was totally unexpected – I took my son for a regular check-up and a week later he’s no longer with us. I just couldn’t get my head around it. It all seems like a blur now. As time goes on it doesn’t get any easier. The pain is still very much there.”
Hunt’s pledge follows a 2016 report by the Care Quality Commission which found that while elements of good practice existed, overall the NHS was missing opportunities to learn from patient deaths and that too many families were not being included or listened to when an investigation happened.
Professor Ted Baker, chief inspector of hospitals at the Care Quality Commission, said: “This new level of transparency will be central to improving care and ensuring the safety of the NHS services that we all rely on.”
The new data will be published each quarter by individual trusts, with 171 of the 223 Trusts in England having already released or releasing their first estimates by the end of the year.
“We can be proud of the progress made over the past year, but the challenge now is to deliver the full vision of a safer learning culture… so learning from deaths becomes an accepted part of practice that provides answers for families and drives improvements in the quality and safety of care,” Baker added.
The programme is likely to cover between 1,250 and 9,000 deaths, which research suggests is the number of deaths each year that may be down to problems in care, out of the 19.7 million treatments and procedures carried out by the NHS in 2016-17.
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, has praised Hunt for his efforts, stating that greater transparency in the NHS is “always welcome” amid the struggles the health system continues to face.
“As the pressures on (the NHS) grow – from its inadequate funding settlement, a worsening shortage of doctors and other professionals, and growing demand from an ageing population – it will be important to monitor the trend in these figures over the coming years,” Power told Eastern Eye.
“This will oblige policymakers, and leaders in the NHS, to face up to the reality of what it means when things go seriously wrong.”
However, she said it was unclear how much redress it would provide for grieving families.
“It’s not clear how much comfort this might bring bereaved families – in respect of their own cases it may mean little, but it might be some reassurance to know that the issue of avoidable deaths is not ignored,” she added.