Family want 'lessons learned' after misdiagnosis & death of Newcastle Professor

The family of an eminent professor at Newcastle University have called for "lessons to be learned" following his misdiagnosis and subsequent death at Northumbria Healthcare's specialist emergency care hospital in Cramlington. Northumbria Healthcare said it has "implemented measures" as a result.

Emeritus Professor Philip Lowe OBE, a world leading social scientist who specialised in the field of the environment, food and rural development, died in February last year of a perforated bowel.

He initially suffered a twisted bowel, but the results of a scan were incorrectly recorded on a computer drop box system as the less serious condition, pseudo obstruction.

A recent inquest found this computer error and misdiagnosis led to a delay in Professor Lowe receiving a potentially life-saving compression procedure, which the coroner concluded "would probably have prevented the perforation and death".

Professor Lowe's daughter, Sylvia Ninkovic told ITV News: "Hearing that his death could have been prevented is really hard to take. You just play out scenarios in your mind, but suffice to say, it's devastating to think that our clever and caring dad and grandpa could be with us still today."

Upon admission, a scan revealed he had a sigmoid volvulus or twisted bowl, but when the scan results were entered into a drop box computer system, they were mislabelled as the less serious bowl condition of a pseudo obstruction, resulting in him being transferred to North Tyneside General Hospital as a non-urgent case.

Mrs Ninkovic added: "I do truly believe that if he’d not been transferred between the two sites, between Cramlington and North Tyneside, that his care would have been better, that the decline in his treatment would have been clear to medical staff and that ultimately the fact that his bowel had re-twisted would have been spotted, he could have been treated and he could have been still with us today."

ITV News has obtained a Serious Incident Investigation Report by Northumbria Healthcare, which highlighted a number of failings during the treatment of Prof. Lowe.

These included:

  • A “lack of knowledge” on twisted bowels at the general hospital

  • “No consultant ownership” over the transfer back to the emergency hospital

  • He would have been “safer discharged home” and readmitted to the emergency hospital

  • Communication with the family was “flawed” due to the misdiagnosis

  • There were “no written medical or nursing notes” for 13 hours, which breached record keeping standards.

Mrs Ninkovic said: "There should have been a better understanding of the two (conditions) and the CT scans, which are the gold standard for confirming the difference between the two, should have been checked, so that when there was a reoccurrence of his condition and when he declined, it would have been clear that he had a re-twisted bowel and that it was a really critical and urgent thing to be seen to.

"It doesn’t feel right that somebody already under the care of medical professionals could have a better outcome if they leave the medical care and are then readmitted as a new patient... It's sad to think that the safety nets weren’t there to catch errors."

A spokesperson from the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: "Our sincere condolences and thoughts go out to Professor Philip Lowe’s family and all those who knew him and we are truly sorry for his death.

The care that we provided Professor Lowe fell below the consistently high standard of care that we normally offer our patients. We have taken the learning from the serious investigation findings and have already implemented a number of measures to prevent this from happening again."