Patient’s brain abscess missed twice by doctors

The patient was referred to the outpatient unit at St John's Hospital in Livingston after suffering with severe headaches. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The patient was referred to the outpatient unit at St John's Hospital in Livingston after suffering with severe headaches. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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HEALTH chiefs have been forced to apologise to a patient who was sent home with painkillers twice by doctors who failed to notice she was suffering from a brain abscess.

The patient, known only as Miss C, was referred to the outpatient clinic at St John’s Hospital in Livingston in September 2013 after complaining to her GP of severe headaches, problems with her vision and vomiting.

The board failed to give her the care and treatment she could have reasonably expected

Jim Martin

But medics failed to spot the agonising build-up of pus on her brain and she was sent home twice with only ibuprofen and co-codamol.

A scan later revealed the problem and the patient had to undergo emergency surgery at the Western General Hospital, before a further operation to drain the abscess.

Ombudsman Jim Martin has now ordered NHS Lothian to apologise for its delay in diagnosis, which “may have led to a more serious outcome and unnecessary prolonged pain and distress”.

He added: “Although it is not possible to know if an earlier operation would have improved the outcome for Miss C, I found that the board failed to give her the care and treatment she could have reasonably expected.”

The watchdog also criticised the health board for poor communication among staff, and with Miss C and her family.

The patient complained that bad co-ordination at St John’s Hospital led to missed medication and errors with specimens, culminating in unnecessary delays to diagnosis.

NHS Lothian was also told to remind nursing staff to maintain full and accurate nursing records, and to review prescription procedures to ensure mistakes were not repeated.

Labour Lothian MSP Sarah Boyack called for the health board to reflect on what was clearly a “painful” experience for Miss C.

Ms Boyack said: “This patient has clearly suffered a stressful and painful experience. By raising her concerns with the ombudsman about the failures in her treatment she has enabled a proper investigation to be carried out.

“The recommendations for changes to be made by NHS Lothian reflect the serious nature of the failings. It is vital that these recommendations are implemented immediately.”

NHS Lothian has promised to adopt the recommendations and ensure lessons are learned from the case.

Melanie Johnson, nurse director at NHS Lothian, said: “I would like to take this opportunity to again apologise to Miss C. We accept the report from the ombudsman and have implemented the recommendations.

“We treat thousands of patients every month and are committed to providing them with the best possible care. NHS Lothian takes all complaints seriously and has taken steps to ensure lessons are learned.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com