Our son, George, had suffered from vomiting and headaches two weeks prior to this incident. We’d had trouble that day getting through on the telephones to the GP practice as it was a Monday morning. I spoke to NHS 111 who told me I could not access any other help apart from my GP practice. I monitored George’s symptoms throughout the day. I only managed to get through to the GP practice at the end of that day and was told “with symptoms like that you really should have just brought him straight down to the surgery without an appointment”. These comments made me feel as if I hadn’t done hadn’t done the right thing as a mother, despite seeking advice from more accessible NHS contact centres. I pointed this out to the receptionist, and how these comments made me feel, and she did apologise. The doctor managed to fit us in that day. He told us it was likely to be a virus and gave us some re-assurance that it was unlikely to be meningitis, which we feared. He explained some of the symptoms of meningitis so we knew exactly what to look out for. When I asked “when should we worry?” we were also told that if George was uninterested in any stimulation whatsoever then to seek medical attention. He also warned that we might expect to see some diarrhoea or other illness shortly after, as the virus takes its course.
The vomiting and headaches only lasted about 48 hours, but roughly a week later George started to develop a chesty cough. Given what the doctor had told us, we took this to be all part of the same virus, so that was quite reassuring. As George has a history of chest infections (and it has has been mentioned by GPs that he may be an asthma sufferer) we monitored him very closely. As he hadn’t been ill for nearly a year, I didn’t have any of his inhalers (Ventolin) to hand, so to relieve his wheezing we used some of my own inhaler on him morning and night via his ‘AeroChamber’, which had previously been given to us from the GP. My view was that it could only help to relieve his symptoms and potentially prevent a chest infection. We used this in conjunction with children’s off-the-shelf cough medicine.
Exactly two weeks after the vomiting had started – a Sunday- George still had a really chesty cough and the combination of Ventolin and cough medicine was making no difference. We visited the Pharmacist in our local supermarket and explained the situation to him; what we’d been doing and whether there was anything he could take or we could do to relieve his symptoms. The Pharmacist told us that under no circumstances should George be taking my inhaler to relieve his symptoms and we were to contact the GP to get his own prescription. He told us that there was no other medication he could take and if he still had symptoms after two weeks we should go see the doctor. I was horrified that he would suggest leaving it so long to seek medical help. George coughed several times in front of the Pharmacist, so he was able to hear just how chesty he was. Leaving it so long just didn’t sit right with us at all.
Later that day we were booked into a storytelling session at a café in the town centre. George was chesty but otherwise in very good spirits, so we made the decision to take him along. When we got there he was full of beans, singing ‘Jingle Bells’ to us and pointing out all the exciting artefacts on the walls of this Harry Potter/ Brothers Grimm-style café. About ten minutes into the story, George started complaining of feeling cold, so we wrapped a blanket round him. He was sat on my lap (as he insisted on cuddles) and I could feel his forehead was getting very hot. He became completely disinterested in the story and the beautiful surroundings, and instead just groaned and got as close to me as he could. He was incredibly lethargic and clearly very very ill. As it wasn’t fair on him or the other children there we decided to take him away from the café. We were lucky that Superdrug was open past 4pm and we were able to pop in to grab some emergency Calpol. We gave him a full dose then and there in the shop. This seemed to have little effect.
Not happy with how he had deteriorated so quickly, I rang NHS 111 from the town centre to see what they advised. After a short time on hold, the advisor went through the routine questions, but wanted to know what my location was. I explained that I was in town centre and was heading home, but as we were very close (within a few minutes’ drive) to the hospital and GP Out of Hours (OOH) service, I wanted to contact them to see what they advised, so we could get there as quickly as possible if needed. We also felt this was the right ‘route’ to follow as a patient: Pharmacist, then 111 (if out of hours), then whatever 111 advise. We certainly didn’t want to be – or appear to be- neurotic parents turning up at A&E for something that was (in a healthcare professional’s eyes) quite minor. So at least doing it this way we would be seen to be doing the right thing in seeking healthcare advise through these channels first. The person I spoke to at NHS 111 didn’t seem happy with what I was asking and was quite short with me. She explained that as I was not in a fixed location they would be unable to help me. The fact that I would have my mobile phone on me at all time was of no importance. It seemed very much a case of ‘computer says no’. I terminated the conversation with NHS 111 explaining it had been very unhelpful. Due to the difficulties in accessing our GP practice via phone on a Monday morning we knew that we couldn’t leave it any longer to get him medical attention and we made the decision to take our chances and just turn up at the OOH service.
When we arrived we didn’t know what to expect, and whether they’d actually make us an appointment as we hadn’t been referred there by NHS 111. We were quite anxious when we arrived, but were really pleasantly surprised. They were really receptive and very understanding of the obstacles we’d faced with NHS 111 (It would seem this service is only available if you or your child happens to be ill whilst at home, or if you stay put on a cold, dark, Market Square waiting for someone to assess you!). The receptionist at the OOH service explained how many people were in front of us in the queue but he said that if George’s condition deteriorates then to let them know and they’ll escalate him. This was very comforting to know they were taking his condition seriously.
When we were called in to see the GP she checked, amongst other things, Georges chest, temperature and oxygen levels, and informed us it was a very bad chest infection. I explained how we’d been treating him so far and the reaction we’d received from the Pharmacist about giving him my inhaler. She reassured us that we did the right thing, and this was necessary to treat his wheezing. She explained how the dosage of Ventolin is the same for both adults and children, and so by giving it we were doing him good, not harm. The GP mentioned about the risks of asthma. She has children with asthma and was clearly very passionate about empowering parents to do everything they can to treat the symptoms. She took her time to explain to us about some incidents her children had faced with their asthma and what she did to treat this. She then showed us on George’s body exactly where we need to be looking to check for signs of an asthma attack. She explained that if he gets these symptoms just to take him straight to A&E. This information is something we will always take with us as parents and we will have the confidence to turn up at A&E without feeling like neurotic parents.
The GP was in no rush during the appointment and we felt like we had the opportunity to discuss George’s illness with her in as much depth as we needed. The GP also supported our decision to bypass NHS 111 and go straight to the OOH service. This was very reassuring and has given us the confidence to make such decisions in future without fear of disapproval from healthcare professionals. George was 2 years and 8 months when this happened, he was our first child, and it was only really at this stage our confidence in seeking medical help grew. It’s an empowering process standing your ground through negative experiences, and also having your actions praised by senior healthcare professionals. If there’s one thing we’d say as parents it’s you know your child and trust your own judgement!