5 Year Old Asthmatic Ellie May Clark Died Hours After Volatile GP Refused to See Her
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A severely asthmatic little girl died hours after a GP refused to see her because she turned up a few minutes late for an emergency appointment.
Unbelievably, the doctor is still practising at Cloughmore Medical Centre in Splott, Cardiff after escaping with a ‘slap on the wrist’ at a secret disciplinary hearing.
Ellie-May Clark, five, died of an asthma attack after Dr Joanne Rowe refused to see her – despite having been previously warned that the girl was at risk of suffering a life-threatening asthma attack.
An official report, that was discovered by The Mail on Sunday, stated that they were eight minutes late, but Shanice, Ellie-May's Mum insisted that was incorrect as she checked the time on her mobile phone when she arrived.
They were sent home and told to return in the morning, but Shanice discovered her ‘bright and happy’ daughter having an asthma attack and not breathing an hour after she put her to bed that night. She died minutes later.
Details of the appalling blunder would have remained secret, because the doctors’ watchdog, the General Medical Council, held her disciplinary hearing behind closed doors.
The full facts were revealed following a Mail on Sunday investigation, which discovered a ‘confidential’ NHS report which damned Dr Rowe’s handling of the incident.
It concluded that:
The GP turned Ellie-May away without asking a single question about the girl’s condition;
Months earlier, a paediatrician had written to Dr Rowe warning that Ellie-May was ‘at risk of another life-threatening asthma attack’;
Staff were ‘fearful’ of questioning Dr Rowe because of her ‘repeated angry outbursts’ and ‘volatile’ nature;
Minutes after the Clarks went home, another GP questioned why Dr Rowe had turned them away.
Dr Rowe, 53, was suspended for six months on full pay after Ellie-May’s death in Newport, South Wales in January 2015. The case was heard behind closed doors because the GMC allows GPs to avoid public ‘fitness to practise’ hearings if they accept a proposed sanction – a process designed to help doctors avoid the ‘stress’ of public scrutiny.
Dr Rowe agreed to accept a written warning not do it again.
But last night campaigners said the current system puts patients at risk. Sir Donald Irvine, a former president of the GMC, warned the watchdog needed ‘urgent reform’. He said: ‘The GMC is there to protect the public, not for the convenience of doctors.’
The Mail on Sunday stated that none of Dr Rowe’s patients, past or present, have been informed of her fatal mistake.
A report from the local health board, which oversees GPs’ surgeries, told how Shanice rang The Grange Clinic for an emergency appointment at 3.20pm on January 26, 2015, as Ellie-May had suffered an asthma attack at school. Surgery staff knew the girl, and had helped her cope with five asthma ‘exacerbations’ in the previous six months. She had also ended up in a high dependency unit five times before that.
A GP called Shanice back at 4.32pm, agreed Ellie-May needed a face-to-face consultation, and offered a 5pm emergency slot with Dr Rowe.
Shanice arrived at the surgery with Ellie-May just after 5pm. According to the NHS report, Shanice said she arrived at ‘about 5.08pm’.
However, she insisted to the Mail on Sunday paper it was 5.04pm. Mother and daughter then waited several minutes while the receptionist dealt with a phone call and another patient.
The receptionist finally addressed Shanice at 5.18pm, the report notes, calling through to Dr Rowe to ask if she would see them. According to the receptionist’s account, the GP then ‘shouted something like “No I’m not seeing her, she’s late”.’
The receptionist replied: ‘She’ll have to come back in the morning, won’t she?’ The report says that Dr Rowe pointed out to the receptionist that the patient was more than ten minutes behind schedule so too late to be seen, and agreed Ellie-May should come back in the morning.
After the Clarks went home another surgery doctor questioned Dr Rowe’s decision, telling a receptionist ‘that they could not turn emergency appointments away’.
At 10.35pm Shanice discovered Ellie-May was having an asthma attack and had stopped breathing. She rang 999 but despite attempts by family, ambulance paramedics and doctors at Royal Gwent Hospital, Ellie-May could not be saved.
When the health board investigated, it found Dr Rowe gave incorrect information, including her claim to be with another patient at the time. They also found that staff were ‘fearful of questioning’ Dr Rowe due her ‘angry outbursts’.
It concluded the ‘root cause’ of the child’s death was that Dr Rowe ‘refused to see Ellie-May because she was brought in late’. It also noted that months earlier a hospital paediatrician had written to Dr Rowe warning that Ellie-May was ‘at risk of another episode of severe / life-threatening asthma’.
Despite this, the report said, Dr Rowe ‘did not make any clinical assessment of Ellie-May before refusing to see her’ and failed to give her mother any ‘safety netting advice’.
The ‘serious concern’ was passed to the GMC but Dr Rowe was allowed to continue practising with only minor restrictions.
Last May she attended a closed-doors meeting where she agreed to a written warning, which will be wiped from her record after five years. The perfunctory 294-word warning, buried on the GMC’s website, says Dr Rowe ‘declined to see a child patient’ who was late and ‘did not consider’ that the child ‘had a history of severe asthma’. ‘The child died later that evening of asthma,’ it states. ‘Your failure to see and assess this child does not meet with the standards required.’
But it concludes the failing was ‘not so serious’ as to warrant suspension or a ban.
Meanwhile, Ellie-May's family have still lost their little girl and yet Dr Rowe is still carrying on with her life. The patients at her current surgery in Cardiff have been treated by this doctor since 2015 with no knowledge whatsoever of her actions leading to Ellie-May's death. How could this surgery have even taken her on?
Why was Dr Joanne Rowe not struck off? How can the GMC have allowed her to get away with this fatal mistake that caused a five year old little girl to die unnecessarily? Why have the GMC kept this case out of the public arena? The only people they are protecting are GP's.
Imagine how you would feel if this was your daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece or cousin. How are Ellie-May's family meant to try and move on with their lives when they haven't been given any justice whatsoever? How can Dr Rowe be able to carry on with her life and job yet her serious actions led to the death of a beautiful five year old girl with her whole life ahead of her.
Sign this petition to ask for further action to be taken and ultimately for Dr Joanne Rowe to be struck off. Would you visit her for a consultation now that her mistakes have been publicised? I for one certainly wouldn't. Ultimately, this petition is also to ask the General Medical Council to publicise their findings and not complete cases behind closed doors.
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