Suspended jail term for optometrist who missed abnormalities in boy’s eyes before his death
- Credit: Archant
An eye expert who missed serious abnormalities in the eyes of an “active and football loving” Ipswich schoolboy who later died has walked free from court after being given a suspended prison sentence.
Sentencing locum optometrist Honey Rose, who was accused of “cutting corners” during a routine examination eight-year-old Vinnie Barker’s eyes four years ago, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith described what had happened as “one tragic lapse”.
The judge said he had “no doubt at all” that for whatever reason 35-year-old Rose had not looked at retinal images of Vinnie’s eyes or carried out an internal examination which would have alerted her to a serious problem.
He said it was “an outrage” when a child died before it’s parents whatever the circumstances and accused Rose of acting in a way that was “a very long way short of proper standards”.
The judge accused her of coming up with a “cover up” story which he said “hadn’t done her any favours” in the eyes of the jury which had rejected her version of events.
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However, he said he had come to the conclusion it was unnecessary and would be wrong to pass an immediate prison sentence on her.
Rose, of London had denied manslaughter by gross negligence on July 13, 2012, but was found guilty after a trial last month.
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She was given a two year prison sentence suspended for two years, a 24 month supervision order and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work in the community.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said it was apparent that Rose’s conviction alone had raised awareness amongst optometrists of the seriousness of the duty they owed to patients. “The effect of the conviction has served a salutary purpose of raising awareness,” said the judge.
Vinnie, a pupil at Dale Hall Lane Primary School, Ipswich died five months after the eye check at Boots in Upper Brook Street, Ipswich, from hydrocephalus - a build up of fluid in the brain - which it was claimed could have been successfully treated if Rose had spotted “obvious abnormalities” and urgently referred him to hospital.
Following Rose’s conviction after a two week trial last month Vinnie’s parents Ian and Joanne Barker spoke of the “overpowering and overwhelming whirlpool of grief” they had suffered since the death of their “special little boy”.
In a statement the couple, who have four other children, said: “The decision of a jury or a judge cannot bring Vinnie back or undo the devastation of his death. A guilty verdict would never make us winners, our loss is simply too great.”
The couple added:”Our main concern has always been the accountability of those we entrust with our health and the health of those we love.
“It is the responsibility of individuals and the organisation they work for to perform their duties to the expected levels of good practice without exception.
“The actions of professionals or their failure to act to a standard at which they are required to perform should not go without consequence.”
After last month’s verdict Suffolk police Senior Investigating Officer Det Supt Tonya Antonis described the enquiry, that initially started as the sudden unexplained death of a child, as “complex”.
“During the course of this enquiry we discovered that in our view there was a criminal case to answer leading to Honey Rose being charged.
“However this case was about much more than justice for Vinnie’s family. Whatever the outcome of the trial it was never going to bring Vinnie back and it was never their aim to see Honey Rose imprisoned, they only want to raise awareness of the issue so that something positive can come from his death.
“If this case makes the optometry profession reflect on their practices and review their policies to prevent it happening to anyone again, or encourages parents to take their children to get their eyes tested with the knowledge that any serious issues would be picked up, then it will be worthwhile,” she said.
“Vinnie’s family have been amazing throughout this process. We have been working with them for four years and all they have wanted is for this not to happen to another family,”she added.
During the trial Jonathan Rees QC, prosecuting, claimed Vinnie’s death was preventable and would have been prevented if Rose had done her job properly.
He said at the time of Rose’s examination of Vinnie on February 15 2012 there were obvious abnormalities in both his eyes.
“The prosecution say that the abnormalities in the optic discs would have been obvious to any competent optometrist who had examined them and would have led to Vinnie’s being urgently referred for further investigation because swollen optic discs signify that the patient may be suffering from papilloedema, a life threatening condition.
“However the defendant failed to detect the swollen optic disc in either eye and as a consequence Vinnie was not urgently referred for further investigation as he should have been. Indeed it was the defendant’s assessment that he needed no treatment whatsoever.”
Mr Rees claimed that if Vinnie had been urgently referred his hydrocephalus would have been identified and successfully treated by a neurosurgeon using a surgical procedure to prevent fluid from accumulating.
“This procedure would have prevented him from dying on July 13 2012 and he would have continued to enjoy a normal life as a young boy.”
The court heard that Vinnie, of Henley Road, Ipswich, had suffered a bout of headaches over a few days about six weeks before he was examined by Rose.
He had also complained of a headache and had vomited during a family holiday to Menorca at the end of May 2012 but had recovered fully after two or three days.
In the early hours of July 13 2012, the day of Vinnie’s death, he went to his parents’ bedroom complaining of headache.
His father Ian, an operations manager at Trade Counter Distribution Ltd, gave him a dose of Calpol and Vinnie returned to bed.
The next morning he went to school but at around 2.50pm his school contacted his mother Joanne, who works for local charity Ormiston Families, to report he had been sick and asked her to collect him.
Vinnie deteriorated during the afternoon and at 8pm the emergency services were called after his father discovered he was cold to the touch. Paramedics attended and efforts were made to resuscitate Vinnie.
He was taken to the A&E department at Ipswich Hospital where he was formally pronounced dead at 9.27pm.
Mr Rees said it appeared Vinnie had had the condition for some time without showing many of the classic symptoms.
Giving evidence during the trial Rose claimed she hadn’t seen Vinnie’s retinal images and said the images she had viewed had been out up on a screen by a colleague and could have been of someone else’s eyes.
She also claimed she had been unable to complete an internal eye examination with an opthalmoscope because Vinnie was slightly photophobic and had closed his eyes.
She said he also had “poor fixation” and hadn’t looked in the direction she asked him to.
Ian Stern QC, for Rose, described the offence as “very much a one off” and said she had not previously had any complaints made against her or faced any disciplinary proceedings in the past.
He said she had worked extremely hard to gain her qualifications to practice as on optometrist in the UK and would undoubtedly lose her “vocation” when she came before a fitness to practise panel in the future.
He said she was a mother of three children aged ten, five and eight months and was still breast feeding her baby.
He said Rose hadn’t worked since March 2013 and had been receiving treatment for depression.
The court heard that Rose and her husband Louis Kennedy had written letters expressing what they wanted to say to Vinnie’s family about what had happened.
He acknowledged on behalf of Rose that the “loss of a child in any circumstance brought immeasurable pain”.
He handed in to the court a number of character references from people who know Rose.
Rose’s husband Louis Kennedy broke down in tears as he described how upset his wife had been about what had happened and the effect on their family.