NHS Trust apologises after coroner says misdiagnosis directly contributed to academic’s death

Hospital bosses have apologised after a coroner found that misdiagnosis and a missed opportunity for treatment directly contributed to the death of a respected academic and former government adviser.

Rural economy expert Professor Philip Lowe (pictured) died in February 2020 from a perforated sigmoid colon following treatment for a twisted bowel.

The 69-year-old was first treated in the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital (NSECH) and then transferred to North Tyneside General to recover, before being sent back to NSECH, where he died.

His family have been critical of the NHS’s hub-and-spoke model of care he received at different hospitals.

At an inquest in Morpeth last month, Northumberland Coroner Andrew Hetherington concluded the father-of-two “died due to a perforated sigmoid colon to which the mistaken diagnosis and missed opportunity for an earlier procedure directly contributed”.

Prof Lowe, who set up Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy and also advised the Government, was admitted to NSECH with abdominal pain on February 13 last year.

A scan suggested a large bowel obstruction, called a sigmoid volvulus, and he underwent a flexible sigmoidoscopy exam the next day.

He was wrongly diagnosed as having a “pseudo obstruction” rather than the more serious sigmoid volvulus, which has an increased likelihood of perforation.

Prof Lowe was transferred to North Tyneside afterwards but was readmitted to NSECH on February 16 for a further decompression procedure, but the coroner found the urgency for the treatment was not recognised.

The academic became unwell in the early hours of February 17 and underwent another flexible sigmoidoscopy at 4am but died at 7.30am with his wife Veronica at his bedside.

The coroner found: “It is likely that earlier decompression of the sigmoid volvulus on 16 February 2020 would probably have prevented the perforation and death.”

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said in a statement: “Our sincere condolences and thoughts go out to Professor Philip Lowe’s family and all those who knew him and we are truly sorry for his death.

“As the inquest heard, Professor Lowe’s death was not as a result of the hub-and-spoke model of care.

“It was due to misdiagnosis and we accept that.”

The Trust said the benefits of the hub-and-spoke model are “well-established”.

The statement added: “The care that we provided Professor Lowe fell below the consistently high standard of care that we normally offer our patients. We have taken the learning from the serious investigation findings and have already implemented a number of measures to prevent this from happening again.”

Prof Lowe, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2010, had been married for 48 years and was a grandfather-of-two.

After the inquest, his daughter, Sylvia Ninkovic, said: “We believe that if our dad had not been transferred between Cramlington and North Tyneside hospitals then he would have received better care, the deterioration in his condition would have been clear to medical staff and the re-twisted bowel would have been spotted and treated.

“It’s devastating to think that our clever, caring dad and grandpa could still be with us today if it had not been for the miscommunication and confusion caused by the hub-and-spoke model of NHS care.”

She said the Care Quality Commission had highlighted issues months previously at the trust regarding patient safety and emergency treatment.

Family solicitor Rebecca Ridgeon, of Leigh Day, said: “As was clear from the Trust’s own investigation, there were a number of errors in Prof Lowe’s treatment which meant that the urgency of his condition was not appreciated until the very last minute — as the Coroner has recognised, the mistaken diagnosis and missed opportunity to intervene earlier played a critical role in the tragic outcome.”

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