New investigation into alleged NHS ‘cover-up’ of baby’s death

New investigation into alleged NHS ‘cover-up’ of baby’s death

Investigations have been launched into the senior management of a Bristol NHS trust following the death of a baby boy at Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital in April 2015.

Ben Condon was born prematurely to mother Jenny and father Allyn on the 17th of February 2015. He died eight weeks later at Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital following sepsis caused by an undiagnosed bacterial infection.

Mr and Mrs Condon claim that during Ben’s last days they repeatedly requested that their son be given antibiotics. Hospital staff assured them that it wasn’t necessary as Ben was suffering from a ‘common cold’. Ben’s condition deteriorated and antibiotics were eventually prescribed at 3pm on the 17th of April, but only administered at around 8pm that day when sepsis had already taken hold. Ben Condon was declared dead an hour later.

This week the Care Quality Commission (CQC) requested information from the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust in order to determine whether their management is ‘fit and proper’. The Trust have announced that they are also launching their own independent investigation.

Mr Condon, a former Olympic sprinter and bobsleigh athlete, is hopeful for the outcome:

“I’ve openly said that I believe it can be resolved and from our point of view we would happily take a full apology, a full admission of them lying… that would be enough for us.”

Jenny and Allyn Condon. Credit: Allyn Condon

The alleged cover-up

The investigations are expected to focus on claims that information about the death of Ben Condon was kept from his family.

In July 2015 Mr and Mrs Condon met with doctors to discuss the circumstances of the infant’s death. The couple recorded the conversation on a mobile phone, and left the phone recording while they left the room for a short break. During this break, the doctors present were recorded agreeing the situation had been mishandled. They then realised that the phone was still recording and discussed whether they could delete the section of audio but did not attempt to do so.

A report published by Verita, an independent investigations consultancy, in early June 2016 was unable to find evidence that proved or disproved a cover-up. The report prompted the Trust to issue a public apology to the Condon family for the behaviour of the hospital staff:

“The Trust acknowledges that suggesting that a section of the audio recording be deleted was clearly a serious error of judgement and it has been investigated and appropriate action has been taken with the individuals involved.” 

“It is easy to see why the suggestion to delete the section of the audio recording, combined with other missed opportunities in communication, combined to undermine any trust the family had in the hospital.”

The inquest

An inquest into the death took place at Avon Coroner’s Court on the 21st and 22nd of June 2016. Following the inquest the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust shared the findings:

“We are very sad that Ben Condon died in our care… In her summing up, the Coroner confirmed that antibiotics, prescribed on the day Ben died, should have been given earlier that day, although she was clear this would have made no difference to the outcome.”

Mr and Mrs Condon did not think the inquest’s findings went far enough, and continued to pursue a full admission of guilt from the trust.

Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital

An apology

In August 2017 Robert Woolley, chief executive of the Trust, issued a public apology to the Condons.

“We have acknowledged that, after his death, we missed a number of significant opportunities to engage proactively with you, to be more open and candid, to understand the seriousness of your allegations and to give you clear answers to a number of your questions, ” he said.

“I apologised to you and your wife unreservedly for these failings a year ago and I have no hesitation in repeating that apology again now.”

But Mr Condon still wasn’t satisfied that the Trust had taken the allegations seriously.

“The apology wasn’t enough. It was two and a half years too late and it apologised for something which they’d covered up for eighteen months before. Absolutely shocking.’

Fighting for justice

Since April 2015 Mr Condon has been calling for the hospital to hold members of staff responsible for the the death of his son.

In August 2017 he was arrested following harassment claims from members of hospital staff after handing out damning leaflets to members of the public outside Bristol Royal Hospital. 

In October of this year Mr Condon began a new campaign against the staff, displaying sandwich boards outside the hospital. On the boards are photos of those allegedly involved alongside slogans proclaiming their guilt. Despite his previous arrests Mr Condon claims he doesn’t feel he’s taking a risk in continuing his protests.

“I’m outside the hospital with a board that’s accusing the chief executive of lying and covering up a baby’s death, I think it speaks volumes that I’ve not been moved,” he said.

The investigations

The investigations into the Trust’s management are expected to last several months. Following this the status of the staff, including chief executive Robert Woolley, will be considered. The CQC have declined to comment until the case has been resolved. In the meantime, Mr Condon says he’ll continue to fight. 

“Would I happily have it resolved? Absolutely, but the ball’s in their court to do that.”

Mr Condon claims that the purpose of the campaign isn’t only to fight for justice for his son.

“If I stood out of the street every day and I allowed my emotion to get overtaken then I wouldn’t be able to do it. I’ve had to do it as a campaign. The campaign is to make sure it doesn’t happen to other people,” he said.

“I believe that Ben’s death has saved lives since because there must have been some sort of learning… I’m not going to go away.”

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