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Northern Devon Healthcare Trust pays out-of-court settlement to family of father-of-two who died from undiagnosed ear infection

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: December 11, 2013

  • Rikki Baker with his family

  • Rikki Baker and his son

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Northern Devon Healthcare Trust has given additional staff training and tightened protocols after paying an out-of-court settlement to the family of a 31-year-old man who died after medical staff failed to diagnose an ear infection.

Father-of-two Rikki Baker died just 16 days after he attended the walk-in-centre at Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital because he was suffering severe ear ache and discharge from his ear.

He was wrongly diagnosed as suffering from an infection of the less serious external ear canal and was sent home with ear drops.

It meant the infection was left untreated which allowed it to spread from his ear to his brain causing irreversible damage.

Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs the walk-in-centre at the RD&E where Rikki was sent home from, this week agreed to pay an out-of-court settlement to the family for the failings in Rikki’s care.

His wife Alicia, 33, who is mum to the couple’s two children now aged eight and seven, has now spoken out to say improvements must be made to ensure her husband’s death was not in vain.

She said: “Rikki was taken from us and he should never have died. He will miss watching George and Eddie grow up and we will always wish he was still here with us.

“Knowing Rikki would have survived and been fine if he was given the correct treatment makes it even harder to come to terms with, but I am at least thankful the Trust has finally admitted it was their fault, it's a little bit of justice for Rikki.

"Despite this, since Rikki’s death, we have never once had an apology from the Trust which leaves me questioning whether improvements have been made and whether they are serious about improving patient safety. I don’t think it’s a lot to ask for given I have lost my husband and two little boys have lost their dad.

“I need to know that changes have been put into place to ensure this won't happen again to another family. People deserve a thorough examination by an appropriate medical professional, and this should be common practice.”

Medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell instructed by Alicia following her husband’s death, found that Rikki should have been referred to a doctor at the A&E department on July 24 2010, after his symptoms of vomiting, feeling dizzy, light intolerance and fever worsened.

If this had happened they claim he would most likely have been diagnosed with an infection of the middle ear and prescribed a course of antibiotics to clear it.

However, instead of being seen by a doctor, the receptionist at the Exeter walk-in centre got him seen to by a nurse.

After being sent home with ear drops, his condition rapidly worsened such that he was drifting in and out of consciousness and despite Alicia ringing NHS Direct, the terrified mum was not instructed to take him back to hospital.

Two days later on July 26, Rikki fitted at the family home in Exeter and was rushed by ambulance to hospital where he was finally diagnosed with an infection of the middle ear and underwent an operation to remove the infected bone and tissue.

However, the treatment came too late and he died on July 30 of brain damage and swelling caused by blood poisoning as a result of an acute infection of the middle ear.

Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust admitted to Irwin Mitchell lawyers that had Rikki been seen by a doctor on 24 July 2010 it would have resulted in him being given antibiotics, which would have likely resulted in the treatment of his ear infection and would have avoided his death.

Luke Trevorrow, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office representing Alicia, said: “It is obviously very difficult for the family to come to terms with the fact that had Rikki been referred to a doctor and given a simple course of antibiotics to treat the ear infection, he would in all likelihood still be alive today.

“Instead, the family now have to live with knowing that more could have been done to prevent Rikki’s death and obviously no settlement can make up for that.”

Following an inquest deputy coroner Darren Salter went on to ask for a review of procedures relating to the treatment of ear infections at the Walk-In Centre at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.

Following the ruling Dr Alison Diamond, medical director for Northern Devon Healthcare Trust, said changes had been made as a result of the case.

She said: “We would like to extend our apologies and condolences to Mrs Baker and her family.

“The Trust took over management of the walk-in centre in April 2011.

“We carried out a thorough review to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragic event and ensure that any learning for the service and its staff was quickly identified and implemented.

“These included:

• Tightening protocols around the assessment and treatment of otitis media and otitis externa

• Providing additional staff training around ear infections

• Working to ensure all consultation notes are comprehensive and detailed

“The Trust apologises unreservedly for the failings identified in Mr Baker’s care.”

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