Bereaved mum says NHS 'failed' her son who died after his cardiac failure was treated as anxiety

  • ITV Granada Reports reporter Zoe Muldoon spoke to see Julie, who is campaigning for patients to have more rights to see their medical notes - and potentially disagree with those caring for them

The mum of a student who died in hospital after doctors diagnosed his heart failure as anxiety believes patients should have better access to their medical notes.

Salford University student Johnny Alfrey, 22, died of multi-organ failure caused by acute cardiac failure on 24 June 2022.

His mother, Julie Alfrey, says Fairfield Hospital, in Bury, 'failed him' as doctors insisted his heart irregularities were 'nothing to worry about'.

Johnny Alfrey dreamed of being a professional musician Credit: Family photo

An investigation carried out by the Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Fairfield Hospital, determined a series of failures that contributed towards Johnny's death.

Johnny first visited hospital in May 2022 suffering from vomiting, shortness of breath and insomnia.

He collapsed in the waiting room of Rochdale Urgent Treatment Centre and tests showed he had an irregular heart rhythm, which doctors told his mum, Dr Julie Alfrey, was 'benign' due to his age.

Julie believes 'devastating and catastrophic mistakes' resulted in the end of her son's life.

"It makes me feel really angry, and bereft," she said. "So much regret, so much guilt.

"I feel, as Johnny's mother, I should've been able to save him, and I did my very best but now with hindsight I feel like I could've done more.

"I could've made more of a fuss, I could've asked the questions more or demanded a bit more, but we were reassured so many times, I did trust the medics.

"Something needs to change and I believe communications is one of those things.

"If we were listened to, if we were able to look at the notes, disagree with the notes and write things there or have things written there, things could've been different."

The young musician was referred to Fairfield Hospital but an IT failure made his previous test results inaccessible.

Doctors concluded he was experiencing panic attacks and sent him home.

Two days later, Johnny returned to hospital and medics found he had 'abnormal liver function' and wrongly diagnosed him with hepatitis.

Further tests revealed his irregular heart rhythm had got worse but again, doctors said it was 'benign'.

Johnny Alfrey's family have started a petition calling for patients to be able to see their medical notes Credit: Family photo

The inquest into his death heard that should they have performed an ultrasound scan at this point, Johnny most likely would have been referred to a cardiologist and received the correct diagnosis of heart failure.

Johnny was discharged on 31 May 2022 but returned to Rochdale Urgent Care on 7 June with his condition worsening.

He was transferred to Fairfield Hospital and treated for acute hepatitis and kidney failure - his heart irregularities were not acted upon.

At an inquest the Coroner heard Johnny was in a very high level of distress and anxiety during his time in hospital.

He was transferred to Wythenshawe Hospital, in south Manchester, after going into cardiac arrest twice, where they performed emergency open heart surgery.

Johnny's life support was withdrawn on 24 June 2022.

An inquest into his death ruled that had Johnny’s cardiac abnormalities been acted upon on and after 28 May 2022 then Johnny would not have died on 24 June 2022.

Julie Alfrey says 'devastating and catastrophic mistakes' resulted in the death of her son Credit: ITV News

Mala Patel, Associate in the Clinical Negligence department at solicitors Hugh James, said "This is an extremely tragic case which shines a light on how the significant signs of cardiac abnormality were missed and not acted upon in a young man.

"I hope the sad circumstances of this case can result in greater awareness amongst clinicians and a change in practices to prevent re-occurrence of these tragic events in the future.

"I wish to pay tribute to Johnny’s parents Julie and Chris who have shown enormous strength throughout the inquest process.”

In response Dr Vicki Howarth, the Medical Director at Fairfield Hospital in Bury said: "We are truly sorry for the tragic loss of Johnny and we have taken very seriously our responsibility to learn from this sad and devastating situation.

"We have been in contact with Johnny's Mum, Julie, before and since the inquest occurred."

The family has now launched a petition calling for patients to be able to see their own notes and the power to challenge what is written about them.

They believe it will save lives.

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