Heartbroken father tells how his son, six, died in agony despite desperate calls to his GP
Sebastian Hibberd died after developing an abdominal complaint
A heartbroken father has revealed how his six-year-old son died after he was unable to get hold of a GP.
Russell Hibberd called the NHS’s 111 service and his local surgery after Sebastian developed an abdominal complaint.
But he couldn’t get through to any medical professional despite numerous calls over the next six hours.
Sebastian died that afternoon and was subsequently found to have a serious bowel condition, which could have been treated if it had been detected sooner.
The tragic course of events will be recounted tonight in a hard-hitting BBC documentary on the crisis in GP surgeries.
It coincides with a poll of 1,700 family doctors by Pulse magazine which shows that some are carrying out 100 consultations a day – more than three times the safe limit.
Many surgeries are severely understaffed because GPs are retiring or quitting at a time when demand is higher than ever before.
Sebastian’s condition, which was initially thought to be a tummy bug, developed over a weekend in October 2015.
By the Monday he was deteriorating and Mr Hibberd first called NHS 111 shortly after 8am that day.
His father Russell Hibberd phoned the NHS 111 helpline and his local GP surgery for help
The call handler advised him to contact his GP surgery. But when he tried the surgery he was put through to an automated message saying it was closed and to phone NHS 111. Mr Hibberd called the helpline a second time and was again told to ring the GP surgery, which should have opened at 8am.
He phoned the practice several more times before 8.45am but it was still closed.
Eventually, just before 9am, he got through to a receptionist. After explaining that Sebastian was vomiting and delirious, he was told a duty GP would phone back.
The call never came and shortly after 1pm Mr Hibberd rang the surgery again – twice – only to be told it was closed for lunch.
Sebastian deteriorated soon afterwards and started having fits. His father dialled 999 but Sebastian suffered a cardiac arrest and died in hospital that afternoon.
Mr Hibberd, 40, a systems technician, who lives in Plymouth with his wife Nat and three other children, said: ‘Phoning the GP in the morning was incredibly frustrating.
‘I was tearing my hair out, I’d not slept much that night. I was very frustrated and very irritated that I was trying to speak to a GP and they’re not there.
‘I went upstairs and [Sebastian] was fitting. I checked whether he was breathing and he wasn’t so I dialled 999. I was performing CPR while we were waiting for the ambulance to arrive. The ambulance crew did their best [but] unfortunately he died.
Sebastian suffered a cardiac arrest and died in hospital
‘The experts who were brought to the coroner’s court said a competently trained medical person would probably have picked up that something was wrong [and that] he needed to go to hospital. It’s a doctor’s surgery on a Monday morning and it was brought up that it was their busiest time.
‘As it’s gone on, we are just finding there’s more and more things wrong with NHS 111. I was just knocking back between the two and not speaking to a medical professional all day. It’s just ridiculous. You’ve got people falling through the cracks.’
The case raises fresh concerns about GP surgery opening hours. Glenside Medical Centre in Plymouth, where Sebastian was registered, lists its opening hours as 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday – and there is no mention of a lunch hour.
Sebastian’s case also highlights shortcomings in the NHS 111 helpline and its ability to identify serious illnesses in children.
Similar failings were exposed by the death of one-year-old William Mead from sepsis in December 2014 following a series of errors by GPs and, later, the 111 service.
An NHS-commissioned report two years after his death found that his mother Melissa, from Penryn in Cornwall, was poorly dealt with by the call adviser who missed abnormal symptoms.
The line’s call handlers are not medically qualified but have been trained to use a computer system which recommends what action to take depending on the symptoms described by the caller. Call handlers might be advised to put the caller through to 999, to request that a doctor or nurse rings the caller back, or to tell the caller to take some other action.
An NHS-commissioned report two years after his death found that his mother Melissa, from Penryn in Cornwall, was poorly dealt with by the call adviser
Sebastian Hibberd was later found to have intussusception, where a segment of the bowel ‘telescopes’ inside another, causing an intestinal blockage. At his inquest in February, experts said a GP or medical professional would have immediately picked up on the warning signs of green vomit and cold arms and legs.
The coroner, Ian Arrow, is preparing a ‘prevention of future death’ report, which will call for urgent improvements in care. This will be sent to NHS England, the Department of Health, the local clinical commissioning group, and the GP surgery.
A spokesman for NHS Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, which commissions GP services at Glenside Medical Centre, said that after Sebastian’s death South Western Ambulance Service had investigated. The CCG had commissioned a further independent investigation.
‘Action has already been taken on the basis of these investigations, notably to strengthen the handling of 111 calls involving children and to clarify handover arrangements between GP surgeries and 111,’ he added.
Panorama, GPs: Why Can’t I Get An Appointment? Wednesday 8th, 7.30pm, BBC ONE.