Aldeburgh: Mum of swine flu baby tells of anger over 13-hour wait for appointment

SUFFOLK’S out-of-hours doctors’ service came under fire last night from a concerned mother who was told she would have to travel for over an hour to get treatment for her young son.

SUFFOLK’S out of hours doctors service came under fire last night from a concerned mother who was told she would have to travel for over an hour to get treatment for her baby son.

Melissa Sheppard, of Franklin Road, Aldeburgh, said that she was also left waiting a total of 13 hours over two days before she was offered an appointment.

The 34-year-old said she feared there could be a tragedy if no changes were made to the current out of hours set up, which is run by Harmoni.

Last night a spokesman for the company said they experienced their highest ever amount of calls over the festive period and the system and staff coped “admirably”.

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He also pledged to investigate Mrs Sheppard’s experience to see if any lessons could be learnt.

The mum-of-three contacted Harmoni on Boxing Day after she became concerned for her 15-month-old son Connor, who was eventually diagnosed with swine flu and pneumonia.

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She said she was left waiting for five hours until the company called her back, offering an appointment in Bury St Edmunds for 9pm.

She decided to wait until the following day when she called again and claims she was left waiting for a further eight hours before an appointment was offered - this time at Ipswich for 9.30pm.

However by that time her son was asleep and she did not want to disturb him so she waited until the following day when a doctor was available at Aldeburgh Community Hospital.

However she was left far from satisfied with the service she received - and it was left to her local GP to realise the toddler was seriously ill.

Mrs Sheppard, who also has two daughters - Megan, 11, and Alice, seven - with 38-year-old husband Tim, said: “They said a doctor would ring me back within 60 minutes.

“After five hours they returned my call and I was offered an appointment another five hours later in Bury St Edmunds. This was an hour from where we were staying with relatives.

“I thought this would be more distressing for my son - to take him on such a long journey at 9pm - so I decided to see if he improved over night.

“He didn’t get any better and I called again on Bank Holiday Monday. This time I had to wait for eight hours before they called me back. I was told that a doctor had been at the local hospital in Aldeburgh but had now left.

“As a result my only option was to travel to Ipswich - a 50 mile round trip. Again this was at 9.30pm at night and as my son was now asleep I asked for an appointment the following day.

“It was incredibly frustrating because if they had not taken so long to phone me back I could have taken my son locally.”

Mrs Sheppard eventually saw an out of hours doctor at Aldeburgh Community Hospital on Bank Holiday Tuesday.

The next day she went to see her own GP and they sent her and Connor immediately to Ipswich Hospital.

The brave youngster has since been diagnosed with swine flu and pneumonia.

He was also very dehydrated and required a drip and antibiotics.

“My own GP was absolutely brilliant,” Mrs Sheppard said. “ I want to make that very clear.

“However I feel very let down by the service we received from Harmoni. I understand that Christmas is a very busy time but the system is flawed.

“There is not enough doctors. People should not have to travel an hour to see a doctor out of hours.

“Its hard enough when your child is ill without having to deal with this added stress. Luckily Connor is recovering but I dread to think what might have happened if he had not received the treatment he needed. I fear that sooner or later there could be a tragedy.”

A spokesman for Harmoni said Christmas time was the busiest period it had had since taking over in April last year - with 1,200 calls received on Bank Holiday Monday and a further 1,400 on Bank Holiday Tuesday, double that of its previous highest level of activity.

“Since Easter we have worked very hard to improve the service, a fact recognised by the East of England Strategic Health Authority in its recent review,” he continued. “We were prepared for increased levels of activity over Christmas but the demand, not just in Suffolk but right across the country, was even greater than anyone could have anticipated.

“Considering the huge volume of calls we were taking, the system and staff coped admirably well. The vast majority of people were very understanding and patient.”

He apologised to Mrs Sheppard and said they would fully investigate her experience to see if any lessons can be learnt.

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