Scottish judge criticises medical care of murdered baby

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

A judge in the High Court in Aberdeen, Scotland has criticised the care doctors gave to baby Alexis Matheson. Lord Uist made the comments while sentencing Mark Simpson, who was yesterday convicted of murdering the six-week-old girl.

Simpson, 29, will serve at least twenty years of his life sentence after he attacked Alexis — the child of his then-girlfriend Ilona Sheach, who he blamed for Alexis's wounds — over the course of a month. The child suffered broken ribs and brain damage. Lord Uist said staff at Woodside Medical Group might have been able to prevent the death but failed to realise the baby was being hurt deliberately.

Cquote1.svg Whether the death of baby Alexis could have been prevented had she been so referred is a matter which, in my opinion, merits a very full inquiry Cquote2.svg

—Lord Uist

Sheach had initially been unable to get an appointment at Aberdeen-based Woodside for her daughter; instead, Dr Mohammed Athar spoke on the phone with Sheach and prescribed three drugs without seeing the infant. When she did see a doctor the following week despite being, said Lord Uist, "seriously concerned" for Alexis's health, the doctor she saw — Linda Mackay — believed Sheach's explanation the baby was constipated. She felt Alexis's blood-red eyes were due to straining; a consultant neurosurgeon testified at trial that this did not explain the subconjunctival haemorrhages in the eyes.

That consultant felt a referral to a paediatrician would have been approrpiate. A consultant paediatrician told the court if Dr Mckay had phoned one Alexis would have been urgently hospitalised. These circumstances have led to calls for legislative changes, according to The Scotsman, which compared the death to the recent Baby P case in neighbouring England. Lord Uist also made this comparison, saying "Scottish health authorities have to treat this case with a similar degree of importance and urgency" to "[t]he Baby P case down south".

Lord Uist was "very disturbed" that "nothing was done" following Dr Mackay's assessment. He also criticised the delay in seeing a doctor, saying "[i]t is my opinion the appointments system operated at this surgery may require urgent review so as to ensure children requiring urgent attention receive it by being seen by a doctor."

He continued "[w]hether the death of baby Alexis could have been prevented had she been so referred is a matter which, in my opinion, merits a very full inquiry. The training of GPs, and also health visitors, to detect signs of non-accidental injury may be a matter that requires further consideration."

The same day as these comments, Crown Office announced that a fatal accident inquiry will occur. "These are very serious criticisms by Lord Uist of the way the health services operated," said Scottish Conservatives health spokesman Murdo Fraser. "Clearly, there were serious failings in relation to this baby's treatment and lessons have to be learned from this case."

The health board stated "NHS Grampian and the Woodside Medical Practice would like to extend their condolences to Alexis’s family. We understand that Lord Uist has issued a statement that it is critical of perceived failings in the care given to Alexis. We will consider these comments very carefully."

The Scottish Government has also taken note. "We extend our deepest condolences to the family of Alexis Matheson," according to a spokeswoman. "We continue to monitor the situation very closely, and will await the findings of the fatal accident inquiry. Following this we will work with the health board to determine any necessary changes and ensure that any lessons are learned."


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