Teenager’s asthma death: Doctor didn’t send South Shields girl for treatment because of weight-gain fears

Tamara Mills
Tamara Mills

A senior doctor has admitted he didn’t refer a teenage girl who died from an asthma attack to a specialist because he was worried the treatment would cause her to gain weight.

Consultant paediatrician Dr Gabriel Okugbeni –clinical lead and director for paediatrics at South Tyneside District Hospital – was the lead clinician caring for 13-year-old Tamara Mills.

The South Shields Community School pupil, who lived in the town’s Woodbine Estate, 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.

Earlier in the hearing, it was revealed that Dr Katherine Eastham, a consultant paediatrician with special interest in respiratory paediatrics at Sunderland Royal Hospital, had written to Dr Okugbeni offering to see Tamara in her specialist clinic after she suffered a near-fatal asthma attack in November 2013, but she never heard back from him.

The reason I didn’t refer her at that point is because I was concerned that she was trying to lose weight.

Dr Gabriel Okugbeni, South Tyneside District Hospital

When asked about the letter, Dr Okugbeni said: “My reading of this was that Dr Eastham was available for me to refer back to if it felt appropriate but, in the meantime, I should carry on with the care for Tamara.”

The inquest also heard that Tamara was considered to be at ‘step four’ of the British Thoracic Society (BTS) guidelines for asthma, which state: “Before proceeding to step 5, refer patients with inadequately controlled asthma, especially children, to specialist care.”

When asked why he didn’t refer Tamara, he said: “The reason I didn’t refer her at that point is because I was concerned that she was trying to lose weight.

“I knew that the next stage, before step five, would be a three to four- week course of daily steroids and there was potential that they’d cause her to put on a significant amount of weight.”

Tamara Mills

Tamara Mills

The inquest had earlier been told that Tamara being overweight could have contributed to her asthma.

l The hearing continues.