Doctors could have done more to save Burnley iron overdose teen - inquest

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HOSPITAL doctors could have done more to save the life of a teenage girl who had taken a huge overdose of iron tablets, an inquest has ruled.

The four-day inquest into the death of Katie Douglas heard from 11 members of staff from the Royal Blackburn Hospital where the hair and beauty student died three days after her 17th birthday on April 15th, 2008.

Katie, of Aylesbury Walk, Burnley, had taken a cocktail of around 130 iron tablets, four co-codamol tablets, four ibuprofen tablets and a bottle of cough mixture when she returned home in tears shortly before midnight on April 11th. She had also drank around 250ml of vodka.

The narrative verdict by East Lancashire Coroner Mr Richard Taylor found faults in her treatment due to delays in administering the anti-iron drug desferrioxamine as a result of relying too much on unobtained blood samples which had been contaminated.

However, it could not be ruled Katie’s death was as a result of clinical neglect, argued by the family’s barrister Mr Louis Browne, as it could not be proven that, had she received the antidote sooner, she would have survived.

Mr Browne argued there were “gross failures” in Katie’s treatment and clinicians had “taken their eyes off the ball”. Two blood samples taken for analysis had come back haemolysed and this had delayed a decision on whether to prescribe desferrioxamine.

Mr Taylor said in his verdict: “Due to a lack of appreciation of her true state of health, and thereafter, over-reliance on unobtained blood sample readings and a failure to consult outside agencies, Katie was denied the opportunity to be afforded the only medical treatment that could have prevented her death.”

It was acknowledged throughout the inquest that iron overdoses are very rare and the clinicians caring for Katie had no experience of dealing with them.

Pathologist Dr Walid Salman, who conducted the post-mortem examination, gave the cause of death as bronchial pneumonia due to iron toxicity.

Her heartbroken mother, Yvette Howarth, said: “I am stunned that having heard the evidence not only did they fail to provide her with appropriate medical care relating to the iron overdose they also failed in basic care and treatment.

“She was not seen by a consultant until 11 hours after admission. She also spent 12 hours in Accident and Emergency.

“I believe they saw Katie as a teenage girl who had drank too much and taken a few tablets. I do not think they looked at the bigger picture even though all the signs and symptoms were there and plain to see. I hope no other family has to endure the tragedy we have had to endure.”

Mr Chris Alderson, barrister for the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, told Mr Taylor that the Trust had implemented its own recommendations since Katie’s death.