Open verdict recorded on meningitis boy's death

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A coroner last night recorded an open verdict into the death of a 15-year-old boy who was allegedly refused life-saving treatment at a cash-starved hospital and later died from a meningitis-related disease.

The inquest in Birmingham heard that 6ft 6in-tall basketball player James Hoccom, of Solihull, West Midlands, was taken to the town's hospital by his parents late on 14 October last year.

His father, Bill, a company director, said that James was a strong, healthy young man, but had been apparently suffering from flu after an outbreak at Solihull Boys' School which had affected several classmates.

He was seen by his GP but his condition deteriorated and meningitis was suspected by the family. When they arrived at Solihull Hospital, Mr Hoccom said he pleaded with a doctor to administer life-saving penicillin, but was told that because of his age James was a paediatric case. Solihull Hospital had closed its children's ward last July before controversial plans to merge Solihull and Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham were announced and pounds 7m cuts ordered at Solihull.

Dr Nuria Gonzales, the senior house officer who examined James at Solihull, said the policy was to transfer paediatric patients to Heartlands which was 10 miles away. James was transferred two hours after arriving at Solihull, but despite the efforts of medical staff he died after a collapse at 4.30am.

The coroner, Dr Richard Whittington, said he could find no evidence that the delay in administering antibiotics had directly caused James's death, and that he died as a result of a natural disease.