Wellington Hospital makes changes after meningitis misdiagnosis

William Burton (supplied)
William Burton (supplied)

The family of a boy left brain damaged after a misdiagnosis at Wellington Hospital say they've been let down by doctors again.

Failings in the care of William Burton have been criticised in a report released today, and doctors have now told the family they may not give him life support if he has further breathing problems.

Two-year-old William is blind, deaf and has spastic quadriplegia. He needs 24-hour care.

He was born healthy, but suffered severe brain damage after contracting E. coli meningitis when he was three months old.

His parents twice took him to Wellington Hospital but doctors sent him home. He was taken back again five days later, suffering seizures, and was diagnosed with meningitis.

"Just as soon as I heard meningitis mentioned, I just knew it has been too long and he was in big, big trouble," says father Derek Burton. "Straight away, like an icy dagger through the heart, I knew he was in big trouble."

Mr Burton says William had symptoms outlined in the Well Child book given to parents. The book warns parents to seek medical help if they think their child has meningitis. It lists symptoms – fever, high-pitched crying, refusing drinks or food, vomiting, sleepiness, a stiff neck, aversion to bright lights and a rash.

Wellington Hospital has accepted the report, which found William was misdiagnosed on his second visit by an inexperienced doctor and that a more senior clinician should have been involved.

"If the expectation is for parents to be aware of these things, you'd expect a paediatric specialist to be aware," says Mr Burton.

Wellington Hospital has apologised for the care William received. The hospital says it has made changes, including increased staffing to ensure a paediatric registrar with at least three years' experience is on duty 24/7.

"To stop it happening to someone else, it's so important," says Mr Burton. "William has been completely broken by this."

William's life expectancy is uncertain. His condition has to be carefully managed. He suffers chronic pain and seizures.

He was also on life support last month with a respiratory infection. When it happens again, life support will be refused.

"He's our son and we love him to pieces – nothing will change that," says Mr Burton. "He's a neat kid."

The family are still grappling with that decision, and they feel like they've again been let down by the system.

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