UK mother died of sepsis following abortion after “gross neglect” inquest finds

A young mother from Blackpool died from sepsis following an abortion after being subjected to “gross neglect” from NHS doctors and healthcare workers, an inquest has found. Her mother, Marie, has said that, in her opinion, her daughter’s  death “could have been prevented” and added, “our hearts are all broken”.

A coroner has written to the UK health secretary, Sajid Javid, slamming GPs and hospital doctors, whilst voicing serious concern for what he calls “the lack of knowledge in the health service” on how to spot fatal infection after a medical abortion. Sarah Louise Dunn, aged 31, died in April last year four weeks after an abortion which took place that March.

Ministers have now been urged to act after an investigation exposed repeated NHS failures which meant that the setting in of sepsis, a potentially fatal infection of the blood stream, was not detected. Sepsis is acknowledged by the NHS as one of the serious possible consequences of abortion, and occurs in 1 out of every 1,000 women, according to information on the NHS website.

Ms Dunn desperately sought help as her health began to radically deteriorate following the abortion. But a string of errors meant that not a single GP or pharmacist she came in contact with detected that she had a life-threatening infection.

When the young mother of five young children was admitted to hospital, medics wrongly assumed she was suffering from Covid, and there was a delay in getting her the antibiotics she needed, an inquest heard.

Ms Dunn, whose children are aged between two and 11 years old, tragically succumbed to the infection, dying of organ failure in the early hours of the next day, 11 April, at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

At the close of the five-day-long hearing, coroner for Blackpool, Louise Rae, found that Ms Dunn died of natural causes contributed to by neglect. Ms Rae said that despite the fact there were ‘gross failings’ in her hospital care and ‘basic failings’ on the part of two GPs and a pharmacist, no organisation or individual was singularly guilty of neglect. Rather, their actions culminated in Ms Dunn being a victim of neglect under their care.

With sepsis an acknowledged potential side effect following abortion, the coroner said she was ‘staggered’ that various medical professionals did not spot the sepsis in light of the fact Ms Dunn had just had an abortion.

“I am staggered that numerous medical professionals in primary and secondary care did not consider the possibility of sepsis, particularly in view of the fact Sarah had recently undergone a medical termination.”

Miss Dunn’s mother, Marie, said that her daughter knew she was seriously unwell and she repeatedly asked for help, adding that the family are “broken” by her death and trying to “find a way of living without her”

“Sarah knew she was very ill and kept asking for help. The doctors let her down in the worst possible way and now we all have to try to find a way of living without her when we are broken by her death.”

Ms Dunn first sought out help from her doctor on 1 April after suffering bleeding following an abortion one week earlier, Blackpool Town Hall heard. Dr Sanjeev Mahara took blood tests but these came back clear.

Yet, a full eight days later, on 9 April, she called her doctor again to say she was suffering from abdominal pain, nausea and sweating; symptoms of sepsis – blood poisoning triggered by an infection, which in this case, was a result of the medical abortion.

Ms Dunn spoke to pharmacist Anthony Lynn, who scheduled a call with Dr Maharaj the next day.

In the early hours of the following day, Ms Dunn, now in severe pain, dialled 111 and spoke to Dr Nishan Karunasekara. He told the coroner that he knew Miss Dunn was seeing her GP over the issue and doctors were reluctant to send patients to hospital when Covid was at its height.

Ms Dunne collapsed at home at 8pm and an ambulance was called. The investigation revealed that, on arrival at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, she was instead treated for Covid and wasn’t given antibiotics until 5:30pm. She consequently died the following morning.

Barrister for Dr Maharaj, Richard Smith, told the court that nobody knew Ms Dunne had an infection when he saw her on 1 April. Julia Hamilton, the solicitor supporting Miss Dunne’s devastated family during the inquest, is continuing to investigate a negligence case against her GP.

Ms Hamilton said: “This tragedy should never have happened in the 21st century”.

Liz Hackett, of the hospital trust, has maintained that staff had acted in good faith.

Miss Dunn’s mother also said that she was “extremely disappointed” that some of those who treated Sarah either failed to accept the role they played in her tragic death or offer condolences.

“I am extremely disappointed that some of the staff responsible for treating Sarah have failed to either accept the part they played in her death or even offer condolences.”

At the close of the trial last week, she added: “We have had to endure listening to terrible evidence all week and feel we are owed at least that measure of respect.”

Recalling the events that led up to her beloved daughter’s death, she said:

“On that awful morning in April, Sarah’s partner telephoned to tell me not to worry, but that Sarah had gone into hospital with a suspected urinary infection.

“He said Sarah had slept on the couch she felt so awful, and had woken him up at 2am to say she couldn’t move her arms or legs. She was advised to see her GP in the morning as she already had an appointment arranged.

“Sarah felt so bad that they later called an ambulance and she was taken to A&E. I kept ringing the hospital and eventually a consultant rang me back at around 10pm. He said he didn’t expect Sarah to see the next morning as all her organs were beginning to fail. I was in complete shock as we thought it was just a kidney infection.”

“When I rang later and they said they were still working on her, I knew she had gone.”

“Afterwards I spoke to her partner but we just could not get our heads around what we were being told. In my opinion, Sarah’s death could have been prevented.

Sarah Louise’s heartbroken mother said that her daughter kept asking for help, but by the time the infection was finally identified, it was too late.

“She kept asking for help over ten terrible days. She then saw a number of doctors in hospital before symptoms of sepsis were finally identified, but it was too late. Our hearts are all broken,” she said.

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