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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 16:34 GMT
Hospital admits epilepsy errors
Annabelle Appleyard
Annabelle Appleyard was misdiagnosed with epilepsy
A hospital trust has admitted that a doctor may have misdiagnosed epilepsy or over-prescribed drugs for 170 children.

The Leicester Royal Infirmary publicly apologised at a press conference on Thursday for the actions of consultant paediatrician Dr Andrew Holton.

A report by the the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health said the consultant was undertrained and his work went unchecked for up to a decade, he remains suspended.

A second independent inquiry has now been launched into a "systems failure" in the NHS.

'Sincerest' apologies

The report, which looked at Dr Holton's caseload, revealed there were concerns over 133 children and possible concerns over another 44 children who had been diagnosed with epilepsy at the Royal Leicester Infirmary.

The cases of a further 1600 patients diagnosed by the consultant as suffering from epilepsy remain to be examined.

The hospital chief executive Peter Reading said: "The trust recognises the impact that this will have on parents and carers and we wish to extend our sincerest apologies and sympathy for the position they now find themselves in."

The report also sets out recommendations concerning the future of Dr Holton, which the trust said it has not accepted at this stage and wants to investigate further.

A copy of the report has been sent to the General Medical Council with a request that it fast-tracks its investigation.

Dr Andrew Holton
Dr Holton's future is still in question

The author of the report, Dr Richard Newton, said Dr Holton was not properly trained and his work was not checked by colleagues.

"We found that he was inadequately trained, his training wouldn't stand up to the standards we now insist upon 10 years later.

"He was only appointed as a paediatrician with an interest in neurology, it wasn't envisaged that he would undertake as much work as it turned out he was asked to do.

"He was working in professional isolation - he had no neurology colleague working with him in Leicester."

'Professional isolation'

"He didn't have the advantage that I have, if something worries me, of turning to a colleague to share a problem and to bounce ideas off in choosing the way forward.

"He was supported by a doctor in Nottingham but Nottingham ran into staff difficulties so that lifeline for Andrew Holton was taken away."

Dr Holton was the only consultant in paediatric neurology at the hospital for 10 years.

He was suspended on full pay in June after concern over drugs given to children diagnosed as having epilepsy were raised.

Dr Newton: 'Dr Holton was inadequately trained'
An inquiry was launched to look at whether he misdiagnosed youngsters as having the illness and gave them drugs they did not need.

Dr Holton, 48, has denied any wrongdoing and said that while he regrets the anxiety caused to parents, he does not believe any of the children suffered any harm.

In a statement issued on Thursday he said: "I've always dedicated myself to providing the best possible treatment for the young people in my care.

"While I remain very proud to have helped so many sick children I acknowledge that additional training would have been of benefit and I welcome the opportunity to develop my skills further."

Children 'robbed'

But parents of children who were misdiagnosed and were given powerful drugs they did not need said their children had been robbed of their childhood.

Annabelle Appleyard, who has been taking a powerful cocktail of drugs for most of her life, may in fact be suffering from autism instead of epilepsy.

"We thought he had made a mistake with Annabelle," said her father, Vince Appleyard.

"When we hear about the huge quantity of children affected it stops being a mistake, it's really serious errors," he said.

Vince Appleyard and his daughter Vince
Vince Appleyard: 'Real serious errors'
Kim Eaton, 46, of Leicestershire, said his seven-year-old daughter, Lottie, had been reduced to a "zombie state" as the result of epilepsy drugs she was prescribed.

"My child was dumbed down to the state of a zombie, which had great consequences for her development," he said.

"She lost school time and education time - that is something that cannot be replaced, and these children are not going to catch up.

"They have in effect been robbed of their childhood," he said.

National implications

Adrian Stevenson, chairman of the Leicestershire Epilepsy Concerned Parents and Carers Group, said: "For over 10 years, Dr Holton has repeatedly misdiagnosed and mistreated children under his care at Leicester Royal Infirmary.

"During that same period, he went unmonitored, unchecked and unchallenged.

"The failings are both clinical and systematic.

"This calamity in Leicester has implications nationwide, we will not rest until the questions which we have consistently posed are fully answered," he said.

More than 100 parents are said to be considering legal action against the University of Leicester Hospitals NHS Trust while others have demanded a public inquiry.

Dr Allan Cole, medical director of the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said a third investigation will take place after complaints by patients and staff over Dr Holton's behaviour.

"We've got to look at our systems and we've got to ensure that not only have we got a paediatric-neurology service that has the confidence of the parents of these unfortunate children but make sure systems are in place to maintain quality," he said.

The BBC's Giles Latcham
"Mistakes may have been made with hundreds more"
The Epilepsy Society's Philip Lee
believes this is a nationwide problem
Solicitor Jane Williams acts for 80 of the families
"Concern relates to over-prescription of drugs"
See also:

29 Nov 01 | England
Epilepsy 'errors' highlighted
07 Sep 01 | Health
Epilepsy doctor to be replaced
09 Jul 01 | Health
Inquiry into epilepsy doctor
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