Family who rushed boy, 7, to A&E with meningitis symptoms are stunned to receive letter accusing them of wasting NHS time
Use your GP the letter said. But the GP was closed!
Her little boy had a temperature, was sensitive to light and so poorly he couldn’t even get out of bed. With the GP surgery shut for the weekend, Georgina Houghton-Small rang NHS Direct, who said it could be meningitis and told her to take seven-year-old Colby to hospital as fast as she could.
Mercifully, Colby was diagnosed with a viral infection and sent home with antibiotics.
But Mrs Houghton-Small’s relief turned to outrage a few days later when a letter arrived from the GP addressed to Colby – admonishing him for going to A&E instead of the surgery.
The practice said it had received a letter from the hospital about his visit, and continued: ‘A&E is for life-threatening situations such as a heart attack or stroke and for the care of people who show the symptoms of serious illness or who are badly injured.’
A furious Mrs Houghton-Small condemned the surgery yesterday, saying its attitude could put lives at risk. ‘I was so angry that they would make us feel that we were wrong to seek medical advice over something like that,’ said the 33-year-old mother of four.
‘The letter said A&E is only for people with serious symptoms. How much more serious does it need to be for a child of seven? ‘This sort of thing needs to be stopped. It could put people off taking their children to hospital when they are seriously ill.’
Colby developed a temperature at his home in Arlesey, Bedfordshire, on November 9. The next day he started vomiting. By the third day he was too lethargic to walk or stand and was highly sensitive to light.
His parents tried giving him fluids and Calpol but eventually rang NHS Direct. Their local GP surgery was closed as it was the weekend.
‘He always has the energy to get up and play, but he didn’t get out of bed and all he wanted to do was sleep,’ Mrs Houghton-Small said. ‘We were really worried. If a kid is so ill they don’t want to watch TV or play with their toys, you know something is wrong.
‘NHS Direct said get him to A&E immediately and take another adult in case he takes a turn for the worse on the way so someone is free to call 999 as the other drives. That scared us even more.’
She and her husband Gavin, 34, dashed over to Lister Hospital in Stevenage. Staff there said he had a viral infection and prescribed antibiotics. A GP visited Colby the next day, and he soon recovered.
But on November 17 he received the admonishing letter from his surgery, the Arlesey Medical Centre. Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which is responsible for 55 GP practices, yesterday said the surgery had not realised NHS Direct had given advice.
A spokesman added: ‘It’s current practice for some GP surgeries to write to their patients advising them of the importance of using their A&E departments for emergencies only and to promote the use of their GP service or the local out-of-hours GP service for non-emergencies.
‘We very much regret if the letter caused distress but it was intended to help the family make the right choice about the service they need to ensure they receive the best possible health care in the future.’
More on a case of NHS neglect that HAS got attention
Treating the husband of a politician like sh*t was not clever
This week, Ann, 75, the Labour MP for Cynon Valley, and a redoubtable campaigner for the rights of the oppressed, steeled herself to make her private grief public.
She did so not for political aggrandisement but to try to spare others similar suffering.
Ann spoke out shortly after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that poor standards of care are one of the biggest problems facing the NHS; that in the worst cases, hospital staff are overseeing ‘a kind of normalisation of cruelty’.
And she wept in the House of Commons this week when she asked the Prime Minister what he intended to do about nurses who fail to show compassion for their patients.
‘Owen was a tall man, 6ft 2in, and he died cramped and squashed against the bars of his bed like a battery hen. He had an oxygen mask that didn’t fit properly and cut into his chin. When I asked for a better fitting one, they said, “Oh, we don’t think so”.
‘Almost every request I made was ignored or dismissed. His lips were very dry and I couldn’t understand why nobody was moistening them. I used my own lip salve on them.
‘I saw a nurse in the corridor and asked her why my husband wasn’t in intensive care. She just said, “There are lots worse than him”, and walked on.
‘Previously, I had asked another nurse if a doctor had seen him that day, and she said: “No, but we know what to do.”
To me, that meant “We’ll do nothing”. It was almost as if someone, somewhere, had decided they weren’t going to do anything more for Owen, although he was obviously very ill.
‘He was very cold, because a patient in the next bed had a fan that was blowing cold air over him and Owen had only thin cotton blankets on his bed.
‘There was no one observing him. You ask yourself: “Where is everyone? Where are the nurses? Why is no one doing anything?”
‘You kick yourself that you didn’t stand in the corridor and scream, but when you’re an MP, you’re concerned about throwing your weight around. And you think, “I’m in a specialist hospital, with people who’ve been professionally trained” — and you assume they know what they’re doing.
‘But a basic element of good care was missing: compassion.
‘Owen lived with great dignity and fortitude, but when he died, he was treated with contempt. And I believe the fact that the nurses and doctors failed in their duty of care contributed to his death.’
At the hospital, Owen was allocated a bed in an open area of the A&E department, near the nurses’ station. Ann was told he would be kept in for observation, but she did not want to leave him until she had established that he would be sent to a ward.
She recalls: ‘Every time I tried to talk to one of the nurses, they were either on the phone or talking to one another. I know they were busy, but it did not explain how they could completely ignore a patient.
‘Whenever I asked when we’d see someone, the answer was always: “In a minute.” There was busy-ness, laughter, joking … but nobody addressed our concerns.
‘A doctor arrived with a tick list. He was brusque, arrogant and rude — he didn’t even introduce himself. When I asked, “What’s your name?”, he looked at me as if I’d said something impertinent. After he’d asked his questions, he just went off.
‘All this time, I hadn’t been offered a chair or a word of explanation. I’d expected at least some reassurance. But it was as if the nurses were in their little world. There was a feeling of total isolation’
Faced with this, Ann sent a text message to her PA, begging her to ask for help on her behalf.
Two-and-a-half hours later, a doctor arrived and assured her that Owen would be sent to a respiratory ward. Ann duly went home — but 24 hours later, her husband was still in A&E.
Meanwhile, Ann became ill herself, with a chest infection, and was unable to visit her husband — who’d now, finally, been transferred to a ward — for fear of infecting him and other patients.
Instead, friends and family popped in every day and she sought reports on his condition by phone. Often, she was thwarted. ‘I’d be told his nurse wasn’t there, or was on a tea break. I asked to speak to him on the phone, but they told me it was a facility they didn’t offer.’
The next day, however, Ann had a call from a consultant, telling her that he was very worried. “We think he’s got pneumonia,” he said.
‘I was stunned; panicked. I rushed in with my niece, and they told me he was not responding to antibiotics.’ Owen’s condition deteriorated sharply. Ann recalls the eight hours she spent at his bedside on the day before he died, on October 23.
‘I sat by his bed and he was breathing with his oxygen mask on. One of his eyes was inflamed and watering, so I asked for a nurse to wipe it. But no one came. So I got a tissue from my bag.
‘I sat at his bedside from 2.30pm until 10.30pm and, as far as I recall, no one said anything to us. No one asked me if I wanted a cup of tea. It was as if I was invisible.
‘There was one ward round, and I stood in a corridor while they pulled the curtains around Owen’s bed. They were gone in a flash, and I’ve no idea what went on.
When Ann returned home, she texted a friend: ‘No doctor has been since this morning. Very few nurses around either. Not very happy with the set-up.’ That night, she slept fitfully for a few hours, and was called back to the hospital at 5 am.
‘I was in a state of shock. I got dressed very quickly and put on a red coat that Owen loved.
‘My neighbour Geraldine came with me, and when we got there and found Owen’s knee squashed against the side bars of the bed. We pushed a pillow in between to make him more comfortable. His feet were sticking out of the end of the bed and he was cold. Geraldine got a towel and put it over his feet.
‘I’d once got a bill through parliament to improve the welfare of battery hens, and I remember thinking he looked so cramped and squashed he was just like one.
‘I just sat there and stroked his arm. I was afraid to do anything — but I was in a university teaching hospital and I thought they must know what they were doing.
‘It was all a bit of a haze, but I remember thinking: “Why aren’t they doing anything?” I tried to say encouraging words. I wanted to reassure him, to let him know that I was there.
‘I’d never seen anyone die before, but when I saw the blood draining from Owen’s face, I just knew that he was dead.
‘Just at that moment, a nurse came in with a trolley crying out: “Anyone for breakfast?” It was only a four-bed ward, and she showed indifference bordering on callousness. It was, for me, a very emotionally draining time — and I believe care and dignity were not there. Owen was treated with contempt.’
As Ann’s husband died, there was a sudden flurry of activity. ‘People rushed in, tore his mask off — but it was too little too late. And I suspect it had been for some time.’
British educational establishment ‘blocking progress in maths’
Long division and times tables risk becoming taboo subjects in primary schools because of “resistance” to traditional teaching methods, a former education minister has warned. Pupils are struggling to develop a fluency in mathematics after being denied the chance to practice basic sums at a young age, it was claimed.
Nick Gibb, the ex-Schools Minister, suggested that learning times tables by heart was necessary to enable children to tackle more challenging topics at secondary school. But he warned that the methods were viewed as “stultifying” by the educational establishment, potentially acting as a bar on progress in the classroom.
The comments – in an article for Telegraph.co.uk as part of our Make Britain Count campaign – come after the publication of a proposed new maths curriculum for primary schools in England. Under the plans, five and six year-olds will be expected to count up to 100, recognise basic fractions and memorise the results of simple sums by the end of the first year of compulsory education.
By the age of nine, pupils should know all their times tables up to 12×12 and confidently work with numbers up to 10 million by the end of primary school, it was recommended. Currently, children only need to know up to 10×10 and familiarise themselves with numbers below 1,000 by the age of 11. It represents a dramatic toughening up of requirements in primary school maths.
But Mr Gibb, who oversaw the proposals before being moved out of the Department for Education in September’s Government reshuffle, said he was concerned that teaching unions were attempting to oppose the proposals.
He said the best primary schools placed an emphasis on complex addition, subtraction and multiplication but there was “strong resistance to the teaching and practice of traditional algorithms amongst many in the educational establishment”.
Mr Gibb, the Conservative MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, said: “On one side of the argument are those who believe that primary school teachers should put more emphasis on the teaching and understanding of mathematical concepts and less emphasis on the techniques or algorithms of calculation.
“Traditionalists, on the other hand, believe that by being taught the algorithms with a lot of practice children not only become fluent and confident in calculation they also develop an understanding of the concepts underlying those calculations as familiar patterns emerge from practice.”
The Telegraph launched the Make Britain Count campaign designed to highlight the scale of the mathematical crisis in Britain and provide parents with tools to boost their children’s numeracy.
Unbelievable: British Car thief is handed £2,000 in compensation after being bitten by police dog while he was being arrested
A police force had to pay £2,000 in compensation to a car thief after he was bitten by a police dog while in the middle of a break-in.
The unnamed man was injured when he tried to flee after being confronted by a dog handler while breaking into a vehicle in the Meadows area of Nottingham. It is believed he spent several days in hospital.
The payout came to light following a Freedom of Information request regarding people who had sued Nottinghamshire Police over dog bites in the past three years. In total, over £19,000 has been paid to six claimants.
A spokesman for the force said he was unable to discuss individual cases, or comment on when the incident took place.
But he said: ‘When a person or suspect is bitten by a police dog, there are robust procedures in place to ensure that it is recorded, reviewed and assessed whether any further action is necessary, including a referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
‘Any claim for compensation is investigated thoroughly to establish the circumstances surrounding the incident. The result of the investigation will determine whether the applicant is successful or if their claim is rejected.
‘The training, deployment and management of police dogs within Nottinghamshire Police is constantly reviewed and developed in order to maintain the highest possible standards of professionalism and welfare.
‘A dog handler will always instruct a suspect to stand still and not run away. In some cases this instruction is ignored, and as the dogs are trained to pursue and restrain individuals, they will be detained by the dog, and this may result in a dog bite.’
‘Every dog utilised by the Force undergoes additional training throughout the year, specifically around bite control, which is in line with national requirements and must be completed in order for any police dog to maintain its national licence’.
All 16 general purpose police dogs within Nottinghamshire Police are used to assist with general patrols and are deployed to all types of incidents. All of the dogs are trained in detaining suspects and or anyone who poses a threat to the public.
British PM warned that the House of Lords will ‘massacre’ gay marriage laws
David Cameron has been warned that plans to let same-sex couples marry in churches will be “massacred” in the House of Lords and alienate grassroots Conservatives
Tory MPs and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, have reacted with dismay after the Prime Minister said places of worship will be allowed to conduct same-sex weddings. The decision represents a major u-turn on the position set out in a formal Government consultation earlier this year which proposed a blanket ban.
Mr Cameron was today branded “arrogant” by Stewart Jackson, MP for Peterborough, who is one of more than 100 Conservatives preparing to fight the new laws.
The Prime Minister has stressed that no religious group will be forced to marry gay people but opponents of the laws fear that churches could face challenges under equality laws. He will allow Conservative MPs a free vote to follow their conscience on the issue, but Labour and the Liberal Democrats are likely to team up with the Government in favour.
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop, said here was a real possibility that the bill could be defeated in the Lords. “I think it makes a mockery of the Government’s attempt to consult and then review in the light of that consultation,” he said.
“Bearing in mind that so many Conservative MPs are unhappy about this, it seems to be madness on the part of the Government to rush through in this kind of way – this is not wisdom.
“I think it is very hard to gauge how the House of Lords will vote on this. Many will go with the Government on the equality aspect but my guess is that there will be a fair number of Conservatives and a fair number of cross-benchers with a few Labour to make it a very interesting debate.
“And I hope that the House of Lords, which is known to question Commons procedure, may take a different view, I think it could be defeated.”
Mark Pritchard, a Conservative MP for The Wrekin, urged to Mr Cameron to hear the “alarm bells” of discontent from the Tory grassroots, comparing it to discontent about his failure to call an EU referendum. “Same-sex marriage Bill will undo much of the good outreach work the Party has done with Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu communities,” he added.
His colleague, Mr Jackson, predicted the new laws will be defeated in the House of Lords as the Prime Minister will not be able to force through legislation.
By convention, governments can only use the Parliament Act to overrule peers if the new law relates to a policy that was included in their election pledges. The Conservatives only pledged to “consider” it in their equality manifesto.
To add to the fury of many Tory MPs, Mr Cameron has stalled over tax breaks for married couples, which was in the Conservative manifesto.
Mr Jackson wrote on Twitter: “Gay marriage bill will be massacred in the Lords and [the Government] can’t use Parliament Act as it wasn’t in manifesto. Arrogant Cameron knows best.”
Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East, predicted “outrage throughout the country” about the new developments. He told BBC News: “For the majority of our supporters out in the country, marriage is between one man and one woman. And so changes to the definition of marriage are not appreciated and I think are not strongly supported.”
It’s the social workers who are racist, say Slovak parents in UKIP fostering scandal
Thought Police furore is more shocking than it seemed
The birth parents of the children at the centre of the UKIP fostering row can today be revealed as a Slovakian couple who have had six of their offspring taken away by social workers.
Last night the father accused council staff of ‘racism’ and of destroying his family as he told how 20 police officers ‘raided’ their home to remove their last four children.
The authorities have also taken the couple’s grandchild (the baby son of their 17-year-old married daughter), bringing the total number now being looked after by the state from this one family to seven. Their ages range from five months to 11 years.
The parents, who are happily married and came to Britain five years ago, found themselves at the centre of national controversy after the staunchly Labour council in Rotherham, Yorkshire, discovered that it had sent three of their removed children to live with a foster couple who are UKIP members.
The furore blew up when social workers abruptly moved the children from the foster couple because they considered that their support of the anti-EU party, which attracted nearly one million votes at the last election, made them incapable of fulfilling the East European youngsters’ ‘cultural and ethnic needs’.
The astonishing decision was attacked by MPs from all political parties, and Rotherham social services were accused of acting like ‘Thought Police’.
Ironically, the council has also been criticised for failing to protect scores of young girls, some in care, who have been sexually abused by street grooming gangs, mainly of Pakistani heritage.
UKIP claimed the Slovak children’s removal from loving foster parents — who said they grew fond of the three and had bought them Christmas presents — was for blatant political reasons.
Now, the Mail can tell the story of the children’s birth parents — and reveal growing concerns at the number of children being taken away from Eastern European migrant families for adoption or fostering, at increasing expense to the state. The issue is causing rising tension between the British and Slovak governments.
Through friends, the parents of the Rotherham children say the irony is that despite the council’s fears of the UKIP foster couple being racist, it is the council which has picked on them because they are Roma, and social workers disapprove of their non-British ‘lifestyle’.
The Slovak father told friends: ‘It is the social services who have been racist against my family.’
However, social services are standing by their original decision to remove the Slovak couple’s first two children, made after one of their sons was found wandering the streets of Rotherham at two in the morning shortly after they came to Britain. The council then took their newly born grandchild into care this summer.
The remaining four children were seized in September when social workers deemed the family’s small terrace house was ‘overcrowded’ and infested with mice, said the father.
Social workers claim there are other concerns about the family, including suspicions that the father had physically abused some of the children. He, and their mother, have denied this.
Over the past five years since the EU’s borders were opened, more than 3,500 Eastern Europeans (including many Slovak and Czech Roma) have settled in Rotherham.
Astonishingly, the family had six children taken into care
The council has encouraged them to adopt British ways by sending their children to school, putting them to bed on time rather than letting them play out on the streets and not smacking or hitting them as a punishment.
But, according to neighbours, the Slovak family’s children were happy and there were photos lovingly displayed around the house of them smiling and laughing.
Whatever the merits of the social services’ actions, the 46-year-old father is angry at the way his children have been separated from each other by the authorities and the brutal manner in which they were removed. The last ‘raid’ on their home saw council staff and police hustle the children into cars as they screamed for their 34-year-old mother, who was left crying in the street. Neighbours who comforted her said the scene they witnessed was ‘appalling cruelty to an ordinary family’.
The father says: ‘What has happened has broken my wife’s heart. She has talked of killing herself since her children were taken away. I would like to leave Britain, but I cannot desert my six children who are living in different groups with strangers.’
His married daughter, who has her own home in Yorkshire, said: ‘I have not seen my own baby boy since he was taken from me at a month old this summer.’
She insists her child was removed because she is Slovakian and the council disapproved of her lifestyle. ‘This was my first child and I looked after him well. The council said they wanted to assess how I cared for him when he was born because I am a teenage mother. They did so for a month, and then took him away against my will,’ the mother told a Slovakian TV reporter.
Neither she nor her parents can be named in order to protect the identity of their children.
The father of the six children has told friends: ‘I love all my children and would never hurt them. I came to Britain to work and make a better life for my sons and daughters. I never believed this could have happened to us.’
He has complained that he and his wife are allowed to visit their children only at a contact centre under supervision of social workers. It is believed they saw some of the children taken in September for the first time last week.
It’s caused street protests in the Slovak capital, Bratislava
The couple first realised their own three children were at the centre of the ‘UKIP row’ when told by their lawyer a few days ago.
The fostering row and subsequent public outrage helped UKIP score its best-ever by-election result — coming second in last week’s poll in the staunchly socialist seat of Rotherham.
It’s clear that many of the local community are aware of the family involved. ‘We are scared that our own children will be the next ones taken by the social services,’ said one woman with a baby as she joined a group of other Slovaks at a social centre. The Eastern European community in Rotherham has held emotional meetings about the social services’ actions. Some Slovaks and Czechs claim that children are being removed on ‘any excuse’ to give to English parents for adoption.
The Slovak father, a handsome and articulate man, was contacted for comment by a Slovakian television station after his first two children were taken.
The TV station asked him to take part in a talk show highlighting how more than 120 children from 40 Slovakian families have been put into care by social workers in England. Some have been adopted and will never see their parents again.
However, the father refused to do so, hoping that he would get his children back. Indeed, he says he has been told he faces jail if he talks to the Press.
Meanwhile, the Slovakian Government has protested to the British authorities about the huge numbers of Slovak children being put into care by social workers, and last Friday a debate at the Council of Europe, which promotes human rights in all European countries, centred on the scandal.
A resolution was passed that said children are being removed by UK social services and family courts ‘against the will’ of their natural parents and in violation of the ‘right to respect of family life’ and the ‘principle of fair trial’.
It insisted that social workers should give ‘practical assistance’ to families in difficulties instead of their children being put into care which caused ‘irreversible damage’ to the entire family.
A sign of the diplomatic tensions between Slovakia and Britain came in September, when protesters filled the street outside the British embassy in the Slovak capital of Bratislava, waving placards saying ‘Stop legal kidnapping’ and ‘Britain thief of children’.
The demonstration coincided with a hearing at London’s Court of Appeal in which a Slovak grandmother — supported by the country’s authorities — pleaded for the return of her two young grandsons, who were seized from their parents in Britain two years ago after one of the boys was found to have a rash on his genitals.
Suspicions that he had been abused were later ruled out, but the boys have still not been returned to the family by Surrey Council social workers.
In another case this autumn, Slovak officials attended a court hearing in Kent that ended with five children being sent back to their extended family in Slovakia after being taken by social workers because their parents left them unsupervised while working night shifts.
The family courts operate in strict secrecy to protect the identities of the children involved. It means that evidence given by social workers and their hired medical experts cannot be publicly challenged.
Parents who talk publicly about what happens there — even to their MPs — have been sent to prison.
Last night John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP who has questioned the courts’ secrecy and why 500 English children of all backgrounds are taken into care every week, said: ‘Few realise how many Eastern European children are being taken away by social services.
‘Of course, this has long been happening to English families. But many parents are innocent and do not deserve to lose their children.
‘It will be costing Rotherham Council £40,000 a year for each of the seven children they have taken in this case — a total of nearly £300,000 a year. The council has complained it is short of money.
‘If it feels there is something wrong with these Slovakian parents, why don’t they send the family back to Slovakia where the authorities there can judge for themselves? They will understand their culture and lifestyle.’
The UKIP-supporting foster couple refused to comment when the Mail told them that six children, plus a grandchild, had been taken from the Slovak parents.
Rotherham Council has said it will not comment on any individual cases of children it removes from families into care.