Leading journalist, 70, dies hours after being sent home ‘feeling fine’
A hospital has changed its procedures after a leading investigative journalist died from sepsis hours after being sent home.
David May, 70, died at Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital last October – a day after he was an outpatient having just a blood test.
An inquest in his home city Plymouth, heard that David, who was being treated for leukaemia at the hospital, developed neutropenic sepsis and suffered respiratory and cardiac failure.
Doctors said David ‘felt fine’ the day before he died and went home to eat a meal, ice cream and watch TV.
But he then began vomiting and had diarrhoea and was rushed back to the hospital from home.
His condition deteriorated rapidly and he tragically died.
David’s cause of death was given as neutropenic sepsis and t-cell leukaemia.
But a coroner criticised the hospital trust for its poor record keeping and said clinical observations on David’s physical condition were not made when he went in for his appointment, Plymouth Live reports.
David was an intrepid and courageous journalist for the Sunday Times and Time Out before joining ITN, Channel 4 and the BBC.
His family expressed concerns about his treatment in the 24 hours before his death.
Dr Patrick Medd, consultant haematologist, said neutropenic sepsis can kill in less than an hour.
He said: “There are not enough white blood cells in the blood to fight bacterial infection.”
The coroner Ian Arrow said that chemotherapy he was receiving ‘made him particularly vulnerable and his decline was very rapid’.
The inquest heard David and a senior nurse had ‘jovial banter about the Rugby World Cup’ on the day he was an out-patient and that David ‘felt fine’ and there were no problems.
But observations were not made – a policy that has now changed along with patients being asked questions from a check list, the inquest was told.
Consultant haematologist Dr Hannah Hunter said David may have been very well up to an hour before the sepsis struck and he had eaten and watched TV with ‘no signs of sepsis’ earlier.
Coroner Ian Arrow recorded a narrative conclusion on Mr May, who lived in Plymouth.
He said: “The deceased was diagnosed with t-cell leukaemia and he underwent essential chemotherapy.
“He was discharged as an in-patient on 24th October 2019 and he attended hospital as an out-patient on Saturday October 26th.
“Clinical observations on his physical condition were not made at the time. There was a paucity of record keeping.
“On the balance of probabilities, he was suffering from diarrhoea that Saturday. He had blood samples taken for testing that Saturday.
“On the balance of probabilities, he was not spoken to about the blood test results that were obtained. He was not requested to return to hospital.
“He returned to the emergency department of the hospital on October 27 in extremis. He had developed neutropenic sepsis in a very short period of time and deteriorated and died in Derriford Hospital on the October 27.”
The coroner noted that changes have since been made by the University Hospital Plymouth NHS Trust following David’s death.
After the hearing, David’s daughter Isabel said: “It is clear that our father was not reviewed properly the day before he died, nor were there proper records kept. Important indicators of infection were at best missed, at worst ignored.
“Indeed, his death has since led to a change of procedure for vulnerable cancer patients like him who require constant monitoring.
“We believe that our father should have been kept in for monitoring on the weekend that he died, and that may have saved his life.
“We hope that the changes that the hospital say they have now made mean that other families will not to go through what we have.
“As we heard, the system was not set up to protect those people like my father, who are stoic and positive despite being incredibly vulnerable and unwell.
“Our father was a brilliant journalist, writer and artist – he certainly had a lot more to do in his life and we are devastated at losing him.
“Derriford Hospital, as the Care Quality Commission says, needs improvement.” Read tributes to David here.
A spokesperson for UHP said: “Our staff caring for Mr May were both shocked and saddened by his death, as they had come to know Mr May well over many months of treatment.
“Mr May was invited to attend for a blood test to see if he needed a transfusion. The blood test results showed that he didn’t require this and he was otherwise well.
“In these circumstances, we would normally only contact a patient if we needed to take action following blood results, which in this case we didn’t.
“The results did not indicate that Mr May needed to return to hospital so he was not called back.
“All our cancer patients are counselled about contacting us and letting staff know if they have or think there may be any problems.
“Neutropenic sepsis can develop extremely quickly and is often not indicated in advance by any prior warning.
“We recognise that record-keeping in this case was not as good as it should have been and have made changes.”
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