Parents demand apology over Sheffield teenager’s death

Lauren Walker.
Lauren Walker.

The parents of a ‘beautiful’ girl born with a rare brain defect say they feel ‘let down’ after Sheffield medics failed to diagnose her condition.

Lauren Walker, aged 13, of Richmond, Sheffield, died in her sleep last October – three weeks after starting to suffer with severe headaches initially diagnosed as migraines.

However, her inquest heard the City School pupil actually had hydrocephalus – a build up of fluid on the brain – after being born with an undiagnosed defect which meant it was unable to drain away.

The condition caused pressure to build in her head – and pathologist Luiz Peres said it could have been picked up with a CT or MRI scan and treated with surgery.

The inquest heard Lauren visited Sheffield Children’s Hospital and a GP on three separate occasions in the run up to her death.

Her symptoms, including headaches, nausea, slurred speech, numbness and vomiting, were incorrectly diagnosed as migraines – and a scan was never requested.

Referring to the second time Lauren visited the children’s hospital, Julian Fox, assistant deputy coroner, said: “Questions were asked to identify red flag symptoms, but none were identified. As a result Lauren was discharged and an opportunity was missed for further investigations to be carried out into the cause of her symptoms.”

Recording a narrative verdict, he said Lauren died from the effects of hydrocephalus and the painkillers she took to alleviate the headaches it gave her.

He said Lauren had sought help but her rare condition was not correctly diagnosed.

Offering his condolences to the family for their loss of Lauren - a girl descried as ‘capable, talented and promising’ - Mr Fox added: “I can’t begin to imagine the depth of grief you have experienced. I hope this inquest has at least provided you with some answers to the questions you had.”

Following the inquest, Professor Derek Burke, medical director of Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said the trust accepted the coroner’s conclusions and had identified a number of changes which would be implemented at the hospital.

Prof Burke said: “Additional training will be added to our junior doctor training programme, this will be in place for all new junior doctors starting at the trust in August.

“A thorough review of our guidelines on managing patients with headache will take place and we are reviewing the process for patients who have an unplanned repeat attendance at our accident and emergency department.

“On behalf of the trust, I would like offer our sincere condolences to the family of Lauren.”

Mark Walker and Theresa Flint, Lauren’s parents, described her as ‘bright, kind and beautiful, inside and out’.

They said: “Lauren had a large group of friends from school, dance and athletics. This was a big part of her social life which she really loved.

“We miss her so much and a big part of our life has ended.

“Lauren was a great big sister to her brother and a brilliant role model. This has had a major impact on her brother and he misses her terribly.”

Speaking after the coroner’s verdict, they said: “We all feel so let down by the NHS Trust.

“We believe a brain scan should have been undertaken on Lauren’s first visit to the Sheffield Children’s Hospital and, as it was missed, then it was absolutely essential on her second visit.

“We believe Lauren would still be here if she had been scanned.

“After hearing the evidence at the inquest, we feel that blame is being passed around from doctor to doctor. We also believe that we deserve an apology from the NHS Trust.”

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