NHS apology at four GPs fail to spot cleft palate

Lisa Blackburn with her daughter Megan, who was born with a cleft palate

Lisa Blackburn with her daughter Megan, who was born with a cleft palate

First published in News Swindon Advertiser: Photograph of the Author by , @SwindonAdver007

PARENTS Lisa and Martin Blackburn have spoken of their disgust after doctors failed to pick up on their baby daughter’s cleft palate on more than four separate occasions.

The couple, from Kingsdown, have been back and forth to Abbey Meads Surgery with their five-and-a-half month old daughter Megan since she was born. She has suffered with wheezing, sweating and feeding problems. She also failed a hearing test, which could have been as a result of the cleft palate.

Mum Lisa, 35, a care assistant, said she had been concerned for months that her daughter had been aspirating – when food enters the lungs – but doctors diagnosed reflux (vomiting) and then tonsilitis.

She said on four occasions, four different doctors at the surgery had looked inside Megan’s mouth and failed to spot that she had a cleft palate, a birth defect that results in an opening in the roof of the mouth.

Cleft palates are usually picked up at the routine 20-week scan or soon after birth.

But Lisa says it was never mentioned during her scan, and it was not picked up on when Megan was discharged from the Great Western Hospital.

She will now have to undergo an operation at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

But a cleft palate could lead to feeding, speech and hearing problems, ear infections, dental decay, jaw development problems and psychosocial issues.

Following the operation, ongoing or follow-up treatment that lasts for up to 20 years could also be required.

Lisa said: “Four doctors have looked in her mouth and one even diagnosed her with tonsilitis just before Christmas.

“The last straw came last week when I took her for an emergency appointment and I said I wanted to know why she is constantly unwell. “She was on her fourth cold – she had tonsilitis apparently, and she’s also had a chest infection, ear infection and maybe a bladder infection, but because she is such a happy baby you would never know. “The doctor looked in her mouth and said to me ‘when is she booked in to have an operation on her cleft palate?’.

“I just burst into tears, it was shocking. I was so angry I just couldn’t believe it. “At one point, one of the doctors told me to take her home and enjoy her because there was nothing wrong with her, they made me feel like I was going crazy and I started to think I was being too paranoid over the little girl I’d always wanted.”

Lisa and Martin have spent more than £150 on different feeding bottles for Megan as she was struggling with feeds and being sick through her nose.

Martin said: “I’m concerned that she is going to suffer because it wasn’t picked up at birth. We haven’t had the support in place that we needed from the beginning – if we had, we could have solved all the problems with her feeding from the start.

“We’ve done endless amounts of research since she was diagnosed, but she will have to have speech therapy now because it has been left so long. “It can cause glue ear and dental problems.”

Lisa added: “We are disgusted, you just don’t questions someone who’s a GP, you just think they know more than you.

“Despite everything Megan has had wrong with her, she is always really happy. It makes me wonder what she would have been like if she was healthy.”

An NHS Swindon spokeswoman apologised to the family. She said: “In some cases it can take time to confirm a full diagnosis, and we apologise for the distress this has caused the Blackburn family.

“We are committed to providing the best ongoing care and treatment, and the practice will be investigating the background to these events.”

A GWH spokeswoman said they would be pleased to meet the couple to discuss their concerns.

“We urge Mr and Mrs Black-burn to contact us via our Patient Advice and Liaison Team,” she said. “Cleft palates can be detected with an ultrasound examination or shortly after birth, however some cleft palates can be more difficult to detect.”

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