Doctors admit failings in case of South Shields girl who died of asthma attack

Dr Shaun Sandbach.
Dr Shaun Sandbach.

Two doctors responsible for the care of a teenage girl who died after an asthma attack have admitted they failed to act on the severity of her condition.

Dr Georgina McCann, a GP at the Farnham Medical Centre in Stanhope Road, South Shields, told an inquest into Tamara Mills’ death that she believed the 13-year-old was already receiving specific care for her lifelong condition.

She told the hearing: “There was a failure to recognise our role. We missed picking up on the high risk state of Tamara’s asthma.”

Dr Shaun Sandbach, a GP and senior partner at Farnham Medical Centre, was asked if he thought Tamara should have been referred to a specialist.

He said: “In retrospect, we should have done it but it’s easy in retrospect. Looking back I would have done it but it’s easy to say that now.”

Tamara, who lived on the Woodbine estate in South Shields, died at South Tyneside District Hospital on April 11, last year after being taken to the resuscitation area of the accident and emergency department.

She suffered a cardiac arrest following an asthma attack and could not be saved.

South Tyneside coroner Terence Carney is holding an inquest into her death at Hebburn Central.

A pathologist gave the South Shields Community School pupil’s cause of death as acute exacerbation of bronchial asthma.

Dr McCann said that Tamara’s medical notes showed she had attended accident and emergency departments 42 times – three in the last 12 months of her life.

She told the hearing: “I think there was a failure to recognise our role. We missed picking up on the high risk state of Tamara’s asthma, partly through the belief that she was already under more specific care than us.”

The doctor said she thought that Tamara’s secondary care physician, Dr Gabriel Okugbeni at South Tyneside District Hospital, would have been taking care of it.

When asked why she did not refer Tamara to a severe asthma service, she said that it would not be the practice of a primary carer to refer to a tertiary care service like the ones at Sunderland Royal Hospital and Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.

She said: “It would be unusual to refer from primary to tertiary when it was already being dealt with at a secondary level.”

She also said that changes had been made at the practice since Tamara’s death.

She said the doctors were “taking steps and are in the process of identifying children with severe complex needs” such as asthma.

She also said the practice had appointed a lead clinician for asthma.

When asked if these changes had been because of Tamara, she said: “Almost entirely, I think as a result of what happened to Tamara.

“Everyone in the practice was hugely, hugely saddened by what happened to Tamara and we took a lot of time and effort to go through what happened and see what we can do to take steps and improve things.”

The hearing continues.