'Why won't the doctor see me?' Girl, 5, dies after GP turns her away for being late

A five-year-old girl died after she was turned away from an emergency doctor’s appointment because she was late, an inquest has heard.

Ellie-May Clark arrived at The Grange Clinic in Newport, south Wales, five minutes after her emergency appointment at 5pm on January 25 in 2015, according to her mum.

She was booked in to see Dr Joanne Rowe, a partner in the surgery and its lead for child safeguarding, as the girl was wheezing and unable to walk due to her asthma.

Ellie-May and her mother, Shanice Clark, waited in line to see receptionist Ann Jones and reached the front of the queue between 5.10 and 5.18pm.

Dr Rowe enforces a ’10-minute rule’, so she would not see patients who arrived more than 10 minutes after their appointment slot, so refused to see Ellie-May, an inquest heard.

Ellie-May died around five hours after she was allegedly turned away from the GP appointment. Source: Handout
Ellie-May died around five hours after she was allegedly turned away from the GP appointment. Source: Handout

Ellie-May asked her mother "why won’t the doctor see me?” before returning to the family home in Malpas, Newport, where she went to bed at about 8pm.

Miss Clark heard her daughter coughing at 10.30pm and called an ambulance after finding her struggling to breathe, with her hands and face blue.

She died shortly after arriving at the Royal Gwent Hospital.

The inquest, in Newport, heard Dr Rowe had previously received a letter from a consultant stating that the little girl was at risk of having “an episode of severe/life threatening asthma”.

Dr Rowe did not ask the reason behind Ellie-May’s emergency appointment, or look into her medical notes before refusing to see her, the inquest heard.

Rob Sowersby, representing Ellie-May’s family, told the inquest Dr Rowe made a clinical decision “without any clinical information whatsoever”.

“She sent away a five-year-old patient from an emergency appointment without even opening her records,” Mr Sowersby said.

“Dr Rowe agreed that when she opened the letter from the hospital, stating that Ellie-May was at risk of serious/life threatening asthma, she should have recorded that prominently on Ellie-May’s clinical record.”

Miss Clark told the inquest that Ellie-May began suffering with a wheezy chest and was first admitted to hospital in November 2011, two months before her second birthday.

The five-year-old asked her mother 'why won't the doctor see me?' after they were turned away. Source: Handout
The five-year-old asked her mother 'why won't the doctor see me?' after they were turned away. Source: Handout

She was prescribed inhalers but returned to hospital every three to four months, with the last admission before her death in March 2014.

In May, a consultant wrote to The Grange Clinic stating “Ellie-May has previously had severe exacerbations of asthma requiring admission to the high dependency unit.

“This places her at risk of having another episode of severe/life threatening asthma.”

The inquest heard Dr Rowe could have asked another doctor to see Ellie-May, could have seen her after her patient had left and could have spoken to the doctor who arranged the emergency appointment for her.

When asked why she had not, Dr Rowe replied “I don’t know. I was busy seeing to the other patient that I had with me.”

“If you have 25 patients to see in a morning or afternoon and a lot of people are 15 minutes late or 20 minutes late you are never going to be able to manage your work,” she said when asked about the 10 minute rule,” Dr Rowe added.

“A post-mortem examination by Dr Andrew Bamber found Ellie-May had died from bronchial asthma and potentially suffered a seizure before her death due to a lack of oxygen.”

She claims she would have acted differently if she had read Ellie-May’s notes.

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