AN inquest into the death of Bridlington man Austin Reeve has found that the 25-year-old died of meningitis.
But Hull and East Riding Deputy Coroner Rosemary Baxter ruled that the outcome of Mr Reeve’s illness could have been different “had the disease been diagnosed earlier”.
Mr Reeve had visited Bridlington Hospital’s unscheduled care service on Sunday, January 2, the day before his death, after telephoning an NHS helpline. He was diagnosed with gastroenteritis by Dr Richard Haynes after a five-minute examination and told to take paracetemol and fluids at home.
Peter Campion, a professor of primary care medicine, told the inquest that at other unscheduled care centres a process called “safety netting” was in place to pass on to patients emergency telephone numbers or recommend coming back to the surgery later in the day if a condition worsens. The procedure is not in place in the East Riding but Prof Campion said “things could have been different” if Austin had seen a doctor later that day.
Austin’s father Brian Reeve asked Prof Campion if a diagnosis of meningitis could have been reached if Dr Haynes had examined Mr Reeve for 10 minutes, instead of five.
Prof Campion said: “There is evidence that better consultations are longer consultations and I would say 10 minutes is the norm.
“From what we have heard, Austin did not show symptoms of meningitis in the surgery. Many GPs may only treat a case of meningitis once or twice in a whole career.”
Mr Reeve, late of Sewerby Road, Bridlington, was found dead at around 8am on Monday, January 3 this year by his girlfriend Tracey Hughes.
He had been suffering with headaches, fever, sickness and back ache for several days before his death after falling ill at a New Year’s Eve party at his home.
Mr Reeve was seen at Bridlington Hospital by Dr Richard Haynes, an experienced GP who has clocked up around 4,000 hours in unscheduled care services over four years.
Dr Haynes, who told the inquest he was treating an average of 30 to 40 patients a day over the busy Christmas period, said: “Mr Reeve did not appear unwell, did not react to the light in the surgery which is bright and did not appear medically confused.
“He had no visible or reported rash and I observed that he appeared to have no stiffness in his neck as he was moving his head from side to side. There were no signs of meningitis.
“The only thing that is different and makes this case remarkable is what subsequently happened.”
Ms Hughes had told the inquest that Mr Reeve had appeared confused at the surgery and misunderstood a request to lie down on a couch.
Family members asked Dr Haynes why he did not run further tests on Mr Reeve after this incident, and if he had missed anything in his diagnosis.
“There was no suggestion that he did not understand my question. I am the doctor that saw your son before he died, so I understand why you ask. I do not believe I did miss anything.”
A family friend at the inquest said to Dr Haynes: “You’ve made excuses about 30 to 40 people coming to see you. You have missed something because the boy died the next day.”
Mr Reeve worked as a heating engineer and had lived in the town for most of life. He went to Hilderthorpe, then Bridlington School, and was described by his father Brian Reeve as “fit and healthy”.
He said: “Austin went to the gym regularly and did extreme mountain biking most weekends. He never smoked or took drugs and only drank socially.”