A coroner has urged GPs’ receptionists to be aware of the symptoms of meningitis when speaking to patients on the phone, following the death of a 25-year-old DJ.
Alex Theodossiadis, 25, had been unwell for days before he was taken to Leeds General Infirmary by taxi and then transferred to the city’s St James’s Hospital in January 2020.
He died after he was seen to fall and bang his head on the floor at the second hospital, although an inquest in Wakefield heard that he was already likely to succumb to meningitis.
The causes of his death on January 28, after his family was told there was nothing more that could be done for him, were listed as sepsis, meningitis and a subdural haemorrhage.
Mr Theodossiadis, from Leeds, but whose family live in Hale, Greater Manchester, had complained of feeling as though he had flu, later developing severe headaches, and registered with a local GP on January 16.
Four days later he called the practice to make an appointment and was offered one for three weeks time, but did not mention any symptoms, nor was he asked for any, during the phone call, coroner Kevin McLoughlin said.
Before giving a lengthy narrative conclusion, the coroner said he will write to the Royal College of General Practitioners with advice for receptionists on being meningitis-aware.
He said: “On a national scale this tragic case can have a value to heighten awareness amongst GP receptionists of the need to be vigilant in relation to the insidious nature of meningitis.
“Realising that young people may be reticent in explaining a cluster of symptoms which they may not themselves understand requires skilful probing by anyone taking telephone calls and acting as an interface between patient and clinician.”
The day before he was admitted to hospital Mr Theodossiadis saw a nurse at a walk-in centre, and the inquest heard how meningitis was “on her radar” during her assessment, but he had not shown symptoms at that time.
His flatmate took him to the local accident and emergency department in a taxi the next day when his condition deteriorated.
The coroner expressed concern about protocols hospital medics had in place for dealing with cases of meningitis, saying that when timely treatment was essential, patient pathways should be clearly understood.
Mr McLoughlin also raised the issue of how Mr Theodossiadis was transferred between the hospitals, without a nurse escort and with inadequate handover notes which could have warned staff how he had tried to get out of his bed at the infirmary, in his confused state.
The coroner paid tribute to the DJ’s parents, Professor Sue Theodossiadis who is a medical imaging expert, and his father, also Alex, a consultant psychiatrist.
Prof Theodossiadis had questioned the care her son received, particularly the falls he suffered while in hospital.
Mr McLoughlin said: “Your family has suffered a grievous and brutal blow in losing your otherwise healthy son.
“Listening to the inquest must surely have been an arduous experience which will have churned up your distress once more.
“I wish to pay tribute to your persistence in raising questions – unless people question and challenge, then standards will never improve and may well slip.”
Dr Phil Wood, chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “I would like to offer our sincere condolences to Alexander’s family and apologise that the care he received was not to the standard we would expect.
“We accept the findings of the coroner and we will provide a detailed response to ensure lessons are learned from this.
“Our heartfelt sympathies are with Alexander’s family at this extremely difficult time.”