Toddler died at fourth hospital in eight hours

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The Independent Online

A 23-month-old child with a collapsed lung died on an operating table after being ferried between four hospitals in eight hours, an inquest heard yesterday.

Robert Benton was turned away from one hospital because no beds were available, which resulted in a delay in receiving urgent treatment for respiratory difficulties.

At the start of the inquest, the jury at Birmingham Coroners Court, heard how Robert was first taken by his parents, Julie Benton, 23, and Tim Dawes, 32, to Sandwell Hospital near their home in Rowley Regis, West Midlands, at around 12.30pm on 7 June last year.

In a statement read out to the court, Ms Benton said the accident and emergency department was being refurbished. "It was in a terrible mess. It was very busy and chaotic but I was informed he would be examined." However, the cubicle to which Robert and his parents were taken was occupied. After overhearing a dispute between a doctor and a nurse over a patient who had left the hospital without receiving treatment, the couple decided to drive to Good Hope Hospital, 10 miles away in Sutton Coldfield.

Paediatrician Dr Nicholas Watt Boyd, who examined Robert at Good Hope, told coroner Dr Richard Whittington that x-rays showed that the child's heart and lungs were displaced by over-inflation of his left lung. He said this could have been caused by a foreign body such as a peanut or a mucus plug blocking the main airway. "The presumed foreign body or mucus plug had to be removed but Good Hope did not have the equipment nor expertise for such a procedure. This is why we contacted Birmingham Children's Hospital."

Dr Boyd told the court he had first telephoned Heartlands Hospital, Birmingham, but the switchboard was unable to locate the thoracic surgeon he needed. Ten minutes later, he was informed that he should send Robert to ward two of the children's hospital.

However, on arrival at the hospital, Ms Benton, accompanied by a nurse and an anaesthetist, was told by nursing staff that no bed was available for Robert and that they had not been notified of his condition.

Dr Boyd said he had assumed that a bed would be waiting for Robert upon his arrival after having been told to transfer him. The protocol had since been amended, he added.

Shortly after 7pm, Robert was admitted to Heartlands, where he died at 9.12pm.

The inquest continues.