The Patients still given Penicillin even though they're Fatally Allergic to it

A couple of weeks after his partner Philippa Gillespie died, Roy Conolly took what little gold jewellery she'd owned to a local jeweller and asked him to melt it down to make three gold bands: one for himself and one for each of their sons, Dan, 34, and Jack, 28, to wear in her memory.


A couple of weeks after his partner Philippa Gillespie died, Roy Conolly took what little gold jewellery she'd owned to a local jeweller and asked him to melt it down to make three gold bands: one for himself and one for each of their sons, Dan, 34, and Jack, 28, to wear in her memory.

Roy and Pip had been together a little more than 30 years. They'd never married, but he now wears the ring proudly on the fourth finger of his left hand.

'She was without doubt the love of my life. I miss her with every breath I take,' he says.


The house Roy and Pip shared in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, is immaculate. The floor is swept, the furniture gleaming.

He continues to shop, eat and keep the house neat 'because Pip would have wanted it'. But without her, he says, there seems little point in anything.

Pip, 59, who had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, was admitted to their local hospital, Withybush General, for a routine procedure on January 7 and never came home.

Pip was allergic to penicillin, a fact that she and Roy mentioned on five occasions during her admission to hospital that day - on each occasion, it was actually the medical staff who asked if Pip had any allergies.

Yet despite all the warnings and the note-taking, early the following morning a doctor who examined Pip prescribed her Augmentin - an antibiotic containing penicillin - for a lung infection.

Minutes later, the drug was administered, with immediate and catastrophic effect. Pip had a cardiac arrest - her heart stopped beating properly - and despite the attempts of the crash team, she never regained consciousness.

She died on January 11 this year. Roy, 60, barely left her bedside for three days.

Pip with her son Jack in 1985. She died when a hospital gave her Penicillin that she was allergic to
Pip with her son Jack in 1985. She died when a hospital gave her Penicillin that she was allergic to

Almost one million people admitted to NHS hospitals each year are allergic to a drug, with penicillin being the most common.

'Most antibiotic reactions are mild and restricted to a rash,' explains Maureen Jenkins, clinical director of Allergy UK. 'But anaphylaxis - an extreme immune system response, involving rapid swelling of the soft tissues, including tongue, throat and airways - can occur, and it's difficult to predict how individual patients will react.'

Patient safety figures show that there were more than 18,000 incidents involving drug allergy between 2005 and 2013. In six of these, the patient died, 19 suffered 'severe harm', nearly 5,000 suffered other degrees of harm, while more than 13,000 were classed as 'near misses' - incidents that did not cause harm but had the potential to do so.

All these patients were being given medication to make them better - the reality was it could have killed them.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that allergies be recorded in a patient's records, which should then be checked every time a doctor has contact with that patient and certainly before prescribing, dispensing, or administering any drug.

'Her eyes were half-open, but she couldn't see... And then I cried because I knew that it was over,' says Roy

'Extra safeguards can include bracelets, drug charts and electronic records,' a NICE spokesman told the Mail.

'But there is variation in management of drug allergies across the UK and errors can occur due to staff poorly noting people's allergies; lack of communication across healthcare organisations; or patients themselves being poorly informed.'

It's a worrying picture, especially as an increasing number of people appear to be affected by severe drug allergies. Between 1998 and 2005, admissions for serious drug reactions more than doubled, accounting for 62,000 hospital admissions in England each year.

'More than a fifth of patients with a known allergy will suffer serious harm, or in a small number of cases may even die, because they've been given that drug again,' says Professor Mark Baker, director of the Centre for Clinical Practice at NICE. 'New recommendations advise healthcare professionals to take a patient's full allergy history, including date of the last reaction, symptoms and duration and to discuss this with families, so a really accurate picture emerges.

'The information should then be passed to a specialist drug allergy service so it can recommend alternative drugs that can be used safely.'

All this comes too late for Roy, who is left lost and bitterly angry.

Roy and Pip's love affair began in 1983; both had fathers in the RAF and had had a similar upbringing.

Roy worked as a clerical officer at the Department of Employment in Haverfordwest, while Pip was a full-time mother, bringing up Dan, her son from a previous relationship, and Jack, born in 1985.

Pip had many health problems, says Roy. She suffered from cluster headaches and trigeminal neuralgia, both agonising neurological conditions causing intense head pain.

'It made everyday life difficult, but somehow we always managed,' says Roy.

He was very much her prop, he says, not only managing everything round the house, but carefully logging her hospital appointments and researching her treatment. Then, in January 2013, she began to suffer pain in her legs. Her GP, correctly suspecting paraneoplastic neuropathy - a form of nerve damage linked to some cancers - referred her for a scan, and on March 18 they received the devastating news that she had lung cancer. Both had been smokers, but stopped when she was diagnosed.

In April, Pip underwent surgery in Swansea to remove the tumour and began chemotherapy.

But in June, long before her chemo was finished, Pip began to complain of chest pain and was frightened the cancer was back.

The tests came back clear, but in September, another oncologist said it had been a 'false reading' and the cancer had spread. Pip was given a course of radiotherapy, which helped a little with her symptoms.

In the weeks before she died, Pip was in pain but, nonetheless, very much herself. A few days before she went into hospital, she'd been in the kitchen making cakes. 'She was funny and opinionated. Everything she attempted, she did to the very best of her ability,' Roy says.

'She was the linchpin of our family. She didn't cry in front of anyone other than me. When we heard she had lung cancer, I said: "We'll get through this together."

'If ever I felt myself wavering, I'd get up and make a cup of tea, and by the time the kettle had boiled, I'd have fought back the tears and returned with a smile on my face.'

Over Christmas, Pip struggled with pain in her stomach and was prescribed morphine - known to cause constipation. On January 7, her GP suggested she be admitted to Withybush for an abdominal X-ray to check for an obstruction.

Pip had been prescribed penicillin ten years ago for an infection and come out in a rash. Afterwards, her GP warned that the reaction to it can range from minor to drastic.

An ambulance arrived to take them to Withybush. By the time Pip had been admitted to a ward, at least three separate pieces of paperwork had been filled in noting her allergy to penicillin. Pip went down for her X-ray and emerged joking.

'She'd never make a fuss,' says Roy. 'Her father had been a senior medical officer in the RAF; she was brought up to trust doctors.'

At around midnight, Roy kissed her goodnight. She was sitting up in bed, feeling well enough to complain that she was hungry. The next morning, Roy, back at home, was packing some snacks for her when the hospital rang to say Pip's condition had 'deteriorated'.

He thought that meant she was in pain. But when he entered the ward, there were a dozen people round her bed. Roy called out to let her know he was there, before being whisked away to a side room.

'I think I knew in my heart she was going to die, but I felt too numb to take it in,' he says.

Eventually, Roy was taken into an operating theatre where Pip had been wired up to a bank of machines. 'She had a tube coming out of her mouth and was making this horrendous gurgling sound. Her eyes were half-open, but she couldn't see,' he recalls. 'And then I cried because I knew that it was over.'

Roy can't remember how long he sat there - hours, he thinks. He sang Pip an Irish ballad he'd whispered to their newborn Jack in the same hospital 28 years before.

Dan and Jack arrived to say goodbye to their mum. 'I told her I loved her, that I'd always loved her and that I'd look after the boys and help them through the rest of their lives,' says Roy. 'She didn't respond . . . not a flicker.'

Pip died just before 5.30am on Saturday, January 11.

'The head of the surgical team came in to see me while I was at Pip's bedside,' says Roy. 'He apologised and told me the doctor who had prescribed Augmentin was really upset.

'I can imagine. He didn't intend to kill Pip, but it happened, and it will happen again.'

Roy looks at the sofa where Pip used to sit and the tears begin to fall. 'I don't feel angry - it doesn't help,' he says. 'I just feel terribly sad.

'I don't want to end anyone's career. I'm not a vindictive person, but I don't want this swept under the carpet. I don't want some idiot to stand up and say: "Lessons have been learned," because that really would make me angry.'

At the very least, Roy would like Withybush Hospital to admit its failings and explain how, despite so many warnings, Pip was given a drug with the potential to kill her.

He knows her cancer was advanced, but he would have made sure that what time they did have left together was full of love and laughter.

The funeral for Roy's 'beloved girl' was held three months to the day that she had gone into hospital for what was supposed to be a routine X-ray and an overnight stay.

Roy has since contacted the police and asked them to investigate.

Asked to comment, a University Health Board spokesperson said: 'We are aware of a death at the hospital on January 11 and this is currently being investigated by the police.'


Source: Mail On Sunday



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