A six-month-old baby who died from pneumococcal meningitis could have survived if she had been taken to hospital sooner, a West Australian coroner has found.
Allegra Amelie Scafidas became ill on April 28, 2010, suffering from a fever, vomiting and shallow breathing.
Her mother, Nhon Vo, called the Healthdirect service and was told the baby probably had a stomach virus and she should call back if the baby’s temperature increased to 39.5C.
The following morning, an ambulance rushed Allegra to Princess Margaret hospital after Ms Vo noticed she was grunting, had turned blue around the mouth, her skin was yellow and a rash had developed on her thighs.
The baby died a week later.
Coroner Dominic Mulligan concluded Allegra died from natural causes.
“Had Allegra been taken to hospital on 28 April 2010, it is likely she would have survived, although the bacterial infection may have caused her significant harm,” the coroner said in his finding.
Ms Vo had called Healthdirect about 9.30pm that night and advised nurse Dianne Ison that her baby’s breathing was shallow, she had been throwing up for six and a half hours, had a fever of 38.8C, was whimpering and had not had any fluid since lunchtime.
“Nurse Ison clearly left Ms Vo with the impression that Allegra had a tummy virus and that medical intervention was unwarranted,” Mr Mulligan said.
“She trusted what she was told and, having no medical background herself, had no reason to argue with the advice she had been given.”
Mr Mulligan recommended Healthdirect require registered nurses undertaking telephone triage duties to tell callers the nature of the service and advise callers they could not provide a diagnosis over the telephone.
He noted that Healthdirect had since taken steps to improve its service by changing the paediatric vomiting guideline and improving training for registered nurses, but recommended the service make more improvements.
Allegra’s parents issued a statement on Wednesday saying they believed the service failed their daughter.
They said the protocol had flaws and they were pleased that changes had since been made, but urged further action.
“Although we see the merits of a telehealth system, the system is by no means infallible, and without constant and mandated feedback from users such as ourselves, such a system will again fail the most vulnerable,” they said.
The Allegra Scafidas Fund has been established in partnership with the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research to research pneumococcal disease.