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NHS nurse mistakes blood poisoning for heartburn

Posted in: Medical Negligence 

43-year-old John Willock died after an NHS 24 nurse misdiagnosed him, and instead told him to take the heartburn remedy Gaviscon. He was in fact suffering from blood poisoning. Mr Willock phoned the NHS telephone line multiple times after he fell ill on Christmas Eve 2009. The father of two from Erskine had been delivering presents to friends when he fell on ice, after which he became seriously ill.

When Mr Willock fell on the ice he injured his knee, started to show “flu-ish” symptoms, was shivering and felt sick — the symptoms of which he hid from his family so as not to ‘spoil their Christmas’. As most doctors’ surgeries were closed over the festive period, Mr Willock made a series of phone-calls to NHS 24 but was failed by the staff that answered his calls. 

The first staff member to receive Mr Willock’s phone-call failed to report the call as serious, despite him pleading: “Is there anything anyone could suggest or is there anything I can get for it? I cannot move. I am bedridden because of the diarrhoea.” During another phone-call made by Mr Willock to NHS 24, he was told to take some Gaviscon and cold milk; the nurse who took the call also failed to tick the box that would send an immediate ambulance to the caller — which could have saved his life.

‘Number of concerns and shortcomings’

A report into the cause of Mr Willock’s death found that he died of septicaemia, yet the source of the infection is still unknown. The report also highlighted there to be a “number of concerns and shortcomings” in the handling of phone-calls by the NHS 24 staff. An NHS 24 spokesperson offered their “sincere condolences” to Mr Willock’s family, and said that great changes are being made to the way in which NHS 24’s phone-calls are handled.

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