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Thursday, 10 August 2017

Psychiatrist admits missing warning signs before epileptic teenager drowned

Written by Pat Hurst

A doctor has told medical watchdogs she missed warning signs weeks before an epileptic teenager drowned in a bath after suffering a seizure at an NHS care unit.

Valerie Murphy, who is accused of misconduct, was the psychiatrist responsible for the care of Connor Sparrowhawk, an 18-year-old with learning difficulties who was found submerged in water at Slade House, an NHS care and assessment unit in Oxford.

He had already had two suspected epileptic fits at the unit, including an earlier episode in the bath, in the weeks before his death on July 4 2013, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) heard.

Dr Murphy has admitted a series of failings but denies misconduct.

Mr Sparrowhawk's mother, Sara Ryan, an Oxford University academic, told the hearing in Manchester her own concerns were dismissed and she found Dr Murphy, "dismissive, arrogant and distant".

She was led to believe he was being "observed closely" in case he had a fit, but staff checks on him had been reduced from every 10 or 15 minutes to an hour, the tribunal heard.

Mr Sparrowhawk (pictured) was diagnosed with autism aged three, had learning difficulties and developed epilepsy at 18 when his behaviour began to deteriorate.

With his family struggling to cope, he was found a place at Slade House in March 2013 for further assessment and to come up with a plan for his treatment.

Dr Murphy admitted she was aware of the risks of someone with epilepsy taking baths and the key to risk assessments was regular observations.

On May 20 2013, Mr Sparrowhawk was found to have bitten his tongue and was lethargic - classic symptoms of a seizure.

At the time Dr Murphy put this down to an "accident" and he was given Bonjela to treat the tongue injury, but she now accepted it may have been caused by a fit.

Chloe Fairley, representing the General Medical Council, asked why she had changed her opinion.

Dr Murphy replied: "Time, reflection, further study. After he died it was a very stressful time."

Two weeks after the May 20 incident he was found with another unexplained and "concerning" injury, again unwitnessed - a bloody nose, suffered while taking a bath and thought to have been caused by another fit.

Ms Fairley asked Dr Murphy: "He must have been alone in the bath, why did that not cause you to question it?"

Dr Murphy replied: "I should have. I can't explain why I did not pick up on it. It should have been an alarm. In fact if I had, we would not be here now."

She said she was not aware Mr Sparrowhawk was only being checked every 15 minutes while in the bath, but conceded she should have known as the doctor responsible for his care.

She has admitted 30 separate failings over her care of Mr Sparrowhawk, including failure to acknowledge the risks of having seizures, to carry out a risk assessment, to obtain consent for treatment, to keep proper medical notes, to develop or implement a care plan, to obtain his history of symptoms or to follow national guidelines on epilepsy treatment.

The unit, now closed, was run by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which accepted full responsibility after an inquest into Mr Sparrowhawk's death ruled neglect played a part.

The trust is facing prosecution under the Health and Safety Act.

The tribunal hearing continues.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.