The failure of a doctor to recognise the ‘red flag’ symptoms of a brain tumour, or confirm this by an imaging scan, “contributed” to the death of a two year old girl, less than 48 hours after surgery.
A coroner’s court found that the operation to remove a 5cm (2 inch) tumour may not have been necessary if the doctor, a consultant paediatrician at a private hospital, had ordered a brain scan during the diagnosis six weeks earlier.
The inquest heard that, for several months previously, the girl had lost her appetite, would choke when eating food and also vomit. At the time of diagnosis, the parents noticed one side of their daughter’s face was drooping and one of her pupils was larger than the other - tell-tale symptoms of a brain tumour, which should have been recognised by a medical professional.
When the tumour was eventually diagnosed, the family was told that it was probably benign (harmless) and could be treated with a partial surgical removal and a course of chemotherapy to reduce the size and swelling.
“Unaware” of child health guidelines
After a six hour operation, which the medical team was satisfied had gone to plan, a MRI scan was performed. The scan revealed that the blood supply to every part of child’s brain was entirely cut off, resulting in a massive stroke. After a further 19 hours, the girl’s brain stem was declared dead and her support machines were switched off.
The coroner ruled that the doctor - who had been a consultant paediatrician since 1992 - had “contributed” to the little girl’s death. Despite major symptoms of a brain tumour, his “gross failure” to order a scan probably prevented the detection of the tumour, which would have allowed the girl's life-saving treatment to have started earlier.
The doctor admitted his failure to order neurological checks and said that, at the time, he was unaware of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) guidelines, which states that persisting nausea and/or vomiting should be considered as likely symptoms of a child’s brain tumour.