A meningitis charity has condemned Jeremy Hunt for making a “serious error of judgement”, amid growing backlash over his advice to parents who suspect their children of having a rash.
Meningitis Now, a charity formed in 1986 to fight the life-threatening disease, said that the Health Secretary’s suggestion – that parents could save time by searching online to determine the severity of their child’s rash – should be ignored.
The intervention by the leading charity comes as doctors condemned Mr Hunt’s comments as “ludicrous” and “potentially fatal advice”. Medical professionals have also started sharing images of different skin rashes – one of a child with meningococcal septicaemia and another with Henoch-Schönlein purpura – asking whether members of the public can spot the difference.
He also came under fire from the British Association of Dermatologists, who said, as there are more than 2000 different skin diseases it is not reasonable to expect parents, under pressure with a sick child, to be able to determine the severity of the condition.
Mr Hunt said at the weekend: ‘We may well need more 111 doctors and nurses. But if you’re worried about a rash your child has, an online alternative – where you look at photographs and say 'my child’s rash looks like this one' – may be a quicker way of getting to the bottom of whether this is serious or not.”
The CEO of Meningitis Now Sue Davie said that her organisation were deeply concerned by the Health Secretary’s and added that it is absolutely critical that medical help is sought as a matter of urgency when people suspect a rash to be meningitis.
She added: “To suggest that people look for an online diagnosis for a rash, rather than seek medical help, could have serious consequences for anyone who has contracted meningitis.
“We know that swift action saves lives and significantly improves the outcome for people who have the disease. To advise people to delay seeking medical advice when they see a rash in favour of comparing their rash with online images is a serious error of judgement by the Health Secretary and advice that should simply be ignored."
“We know that a meningitis rash could appear at any time and importantly that it can be one of the last signs and symptoms to appear. It is therefore absolutely critical that medical help is sought as a matter of urgency when people suspect meningitis…The timing of Mr Hunt’s advice is a further cause for concern as we are in the peak season for meningitis in the UK.”
Top rash will definitely kill a child without treatment. Bottom probably won’t. Tricky huh? Hunt’s advice is lethal. pic.twitter.com/oS2nN82okc— Thom O'Neill (@fakethom) January 30, 2016
Dr Hamed Khan, an emergency department doctor at St Georges hospital in London told the Independent at the weekend that the Health Secretary’s comments could “potentially put lives at risk”.
Dr Khan said: “I see lots of children with rashes. I am worried that parents will take the Health Secretary's advice, and potentially miss very serious illnesses like meningitis – which could have fatal consequences. The Health Secretary should publicly retract this statement, and accept that it was a grave error of judgement.”
Writing for the Independent Amrita Jesurasa, a former paediatric doctor and now a public health specialist, said: “For Jeremy Hunt, our own Secretary of State for Health, to put children’s lives at risk with a throwaway comment suggesting parents should search the internet for images to diagnose their own child’s rash before seeking medical care is beyond reckless.”
Mr Hunt’s comments were originally published in the Daily Mail and were made during a meeting with the family of William Mead – the one-year-old who died in December 2014, after GPs, out of hours services and a 111 call handler failed to spot he had sepsis caused by an underlying chest infection and pneumonia. The health secretary publicly apologised to the family earlier this week on behalf of the government and the NHS.
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