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Ambulance trust "closed ranks" over death of 10-year-old boy

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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The relatives of a 10-year-old boy who died after being misdiagnosed by ambulance staff have said that the ambulance trust “closed ranks” when questioned about the child’s death, and have alleged a “massive cover-up” about the role of NHS workers in their son’s death.

The crew dismissed Charlie’s seizure


The family of Charlie Burns have said a string of NHS organisations have hindered their efforts to investigate what went wrong in the treatment of their son. Charlie died, aged just 10-years-old, after an ambulance crew misdiagnosed him.  He was a seemingly healthy child from Wiltshire, who enjoyed cycling, skateboarding and studying Roman history. However, he died in October 2011 of an epileptic fit. 

An ambulance was called after Charlie first suffered a seizure at home on 7 October 2011. His breathing was shallow and his parents reported that his body was twitching, with his eyes rolling backwards into his head. He came round 15 minutes later, but was confused and unable to stand unaided. The crew that attended dismissed the episode, deciding that he had probably suffered from a febrile convulsion. 

A febrile convulsion is a seizure that can happen when a child has a fever, which sees the child’s body become stiff, while their arms and legs twitch and they lose consciousness. Such seizures are relatively common and in most instances, are not serious. However, Charlie had not shown any signs of a fever before, during or after the seizure.

Despite protestations from Charlie’s parents, the crew declined to take him to hospital. Instead, they suggested giving Charlie Calpol. Four days later, the young boy died after a second epileptic seizure. 

The NHS complaints procedure was “soul destroying”

Jan Burns, Charlie’s mother, has told of the difficulties the family has endured with the NHS complaints procedure as they have tried to gain answers about their son’s treatment before his death. Struggling to deal with the loss of their son, Jan described the family’s efforts. She said:

“The hours we have spent researching organisations to contact and writing letters only to receive lip service is soul-destroying. 

People at the end of a phone or computer have no idea about the family they are dealing with. Their lack of humanity or understanding causes more distress. They don’t see my 18-year-old daughter, who has nightmares, panic attacks and heart palpitations, or my husband who is covered from head-to-toe in psoriasis and has insomnia. I suffer from night terrors and had a nervous breakdown, preventing me from working for two years.”

Barrie, Charlie’s father, accused the NHS and the ambulance crew of a “massive cover-up”. He stated:

“They [the ambulance trust] closed ranks and we were made to feel as though Charlie’s death was nothing more than a hindrance to them.”

One of the paramedics now faces a fitness-to-practice hearing, after the family made a complaint directly to her professional body. However, despite the ongoing proceedings with the Health Care Professionals Council, the paramedic is still employed by the ambulance service. The second crew member that attended, an emergency care assistant who was not registered with the HCPC, has since qualified as a paramedic and is employed by the ambulance service.

After an intervention by Claire Perry, the Burns’ local MP, a report by Great Western ambulance service was received. However, the family was not satisfied. They then appealed to the health service ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, and were told — after two months — that an investigation would be considered. But Mellor’s office then ruled it could not investigate because the paramedic was facing a hearing at the HCPC.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, has offered the family her sympathy. She stated:

“Hundreds of bereaved families who have lost a loved one through NHS error are treated inhumanely and callously by the NHS.”

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