SEBASTIAN Hibberd was a healthy, happy boy who loved “bugs, bees and beetles” and being outside.
But on Monday, October 12 2015, the six-year-old from Plymouth died from a blocked intestine – after his desperate dad Russell was unable to get hold of a GP for SIX hours.
Russell – who rang NHS 111 and his local surgery several times without success – tells his heartbreaking story on tonight’s Panorama, GPs: Why Can’t I Get An Appointment?
He said: “If I’d spoken to any medical professional like I tried to in the morning then Sebastian would have been alive.”
The documentary coincides with a poll of 1,700 GPs which found that some are dealing with 100 consultations a day – more than three times the safe limit.
But this is little consolation to heartbroken dad Russell, his wife Nat and their three other children, as their struggle to get through to a GP had the most tragic consequence of all.
‘Vomiting and delirious’
Sebastian had previously had no health problems at all.
But that Saturday, Sebastian complained of stomach pains and began to vomit every hour.
At first, his parents dismissed the illness as a tummy bug.
But when the sickness and diarrhoea had not eased up by 8am two days later, Russell called medical helpline 111.
The call handler told him to call his GP, but when he called the Glenside Medical Centre in Plymouth he got a recorded message saying it was closed and to call 111.
On his second call to the helpline, he was again advised to call the surgery, which should have opened at 8am.
He tried several times, as late as 8.45am, but it was still closed.
When he finally got through, just before 9am, Sebastian was vomiting and delirious and Russell, 40, was told a duty GP would phone back.
When no call came, Russell phoned back, just after 1pm, and was told the surgery was closed for lunch.
‘I performed CPR in desperate bid to save him’
“I went upstairs and [Sebastian] was fitting,” said Russell. “I checked whether he was breathing and he wasn’t so I dialled 999.
“I was performing CPR while we were waiting for the ambulance to arrive. The ambulance crew did their best but unfortunately he died.”
In February, an inquest into the death found the cause of death was necrotic bowel and intussusception – where one segment of intestine telescopes inside another causing an internal blockage.
Paediatric surgeon Dr Dorothy Kufeji said Russell’s description of Sebastian as delirious, with cold hands and feet and throwing up green vomit were “three particular red flags” that shouldn’t have been ignored.
Coroner Ian Arrow said there had been “several missed opportunities for him to receive life-saving treatment.”
He added that, had his condition been recognised at the time that the surgery should have been open – 8.44am – “his life might have been preserved.”
‘His death was totally avoidable’
After the inquest the family issued a statement saying they were “shocked and angered” by their son’s “totally avoidable” death.
Russell believes that if he had been able to speak to a doctor on the phone, Sebastian could have been saved.
“The experts who were brought to the coroner’s court said a competently trained medical person would probably have picked up that something was wrong [and that] he needed to go to hospital.
The case raises fresh concerns about overloaded GP surgeries, as more and more patients struggle to get an appointment.
More family doctors are quitting or retiring early than ever before, causing a huge staff shortage in local surgeries and the Nuffield Trust found that the number of GPs per 100,000 people has fallen from nearly 65 in 2014 to 60 last year.
It also revealed shortcomings in the 111 helpline, where calls are not answered by medically qualified staff.
Handlers use a computer system which recommends what action to take depending on the symptoms and can put the caller through to 999, request that a doctor or nurse rings them back, or can advise other actions to ease symptoms.
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A spokesman for NHS Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, which commissions GP services at the Glenside Medical Centre, said that after Sebastian’s death South Western Ambulance Service had investigated and further independent investigation is underway.
“Action has already been taken on the basis of these investigations, notably to strengthen the handling of 111 calls involving children and to clarify handover arrangements between GP surgeries and 111,’ he added.
Panorama, GPs: Why Can’t I Get An Appointment? airs tonight at 7.30pm on BBC1