William Mead: Family of dead baby was let down by NHS in 'worst possible way', says Jeremy Hunt

Health Secretary says he has met William's mother to apologise 'on behalf of the Government and the NHS'

William Mead, who died from sepsis, had a chest infection and pneumonia that was not spotted by the NHS 111 service in Cornwall
William Mead, who died from sepsis, had a chest infection and pneumonia that was not spotted by the NHS 111 service in Cornwall

Jeremy Hunt has apologised to the family of a baby that was let down in the “worst possible way” by a string of NHS failings before his death from sepsis.

“Whilst any health system will inevitably suffer some tragedies, the issues in this case have significant implications for the rest of the NHS that I’m determined we should learn from,” the Health Secretary said in a statement to MPs.

William Mead – 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 – had been let down, he added.

“I have met William’s mother, Melissa, who has spoken incredibly movingly about the loss of her son,” Mr Hunt said, adding that he would like to apologise to her and the rest of the boy’s family, “on behalf of the Government and the NHS.”

The apology was welcomed by Ms Mead who said it showed “recognition and acceptance that sometimes the system does fail, and it’s about standing up and being accountable for that.”

She added that she hoped that a report into the 12-month-old’s death would have far-reaching implications.

“We are quite overwhelmed to be honest,” said the 29-year-old from Penryn, Cornwall, adding that her son “is going to make an impact on the world and we are very thankful for that.”

The report by NHS England found opportunities were missed to save the boy’s life after his parents were repeatedly told he just had a cough.

It said that Ms Mead spoke to medics at least nine times in the 11 weeks leading up to William’s death. He was seen by several GPs who failed to spot that his condition was deteriorating.

On the day before his death, she called 111 for advice and also spoke to an out-of-hours GP who did not have access to her son’s medical records.

The 111 call handler failed to explore further some of Mrs Mead’s comments about William’s condition, including that his temperature had gone from a high 40C to a low 35C – a sign of sepsis. Ms Mead is now calling for those who run the 111 NHS helpline to only allow doctors and nurses to handle calls involving the health of young children.

Mr Hunt said the recommendations relating to 111 should be “treated as a national and not a local issue” adding that advisers were “trained not to deviate from their script, but the report says they need to be trained to appreciate when there is a need to probe further, how to recognise a complex call and when to call in clinical advice earlier.” He added: “It also highlights limited sensitivity in the algorithms used by call handlers in the signs relating to sepsis.”

However, the report also blamed GPs for the baby’s death, saying a “significant missed opportunity was the fact that the underlying pathology, a chest infection and the pneumonia in the last six to eight weeks or so of William’s life, were not recognised and treated”.

Calling the death a “tragedy”, an NHS England spokesman said “experts from the UK Sepsis Trust, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the NHS are already working to prevent future similar tragic events.”

He added: “We have also recognised the need for GP out-of-hours and 111 services to work seamlessly, and they are now being combined on a rolling basis across England.”

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