Family of tragic Gerald Yilmaz calls for ‘hospital passport’ to save lives of people with learning disabilities

The family of a disabled man who died after symptoms of a brain abscess were overlooked has called for NHS-wide action to halt similar avoidable deaths of people with learning disabilities.

Relatives of Gerald Yilmaz, who worked as a gardener at The Harington Scheme in Highgate for 15 years, appealed to health chiefs to bring in a ‘hospital passport’ system that could prevent others from suffering a similar fate.

The document would tell healthcare professionals what patients with learning disabilities are normally like, reducing the risk of “diagnostic overshadowing”.

The 37-year-old died from a brain abscess last July after doctors at the Whittington Hospital, Highgate, assumed his alarming symptoms were just normal behaviour due to his learning impairment.

Gerald’s brother Muhammed, 22, a master’s student at the London School of Economics, said: “If Gerald had a passport, it would have given much more detail about him as a person. It would have been immediately brought up and the doctors would have known how to act. We want to see it brought in across the NHS because it would make a massive difference.”

According to the charity Mencap, 37 per cent of the deaths of people with learning disabilities are avoidable. That equates to 1,200 every year.

Mencap says diagnostic overshadowing, where symptoms are confused with a person’s impairment, is by far the biggest danger.

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Beverley Dawkins, Mencap policy manager, said, while some hospitals do use passports, a national standard is desperately needed.

“We would like to see it introduced across the NHS for everyone with learning disabilities.”

Gerald was displaying a number of worrying signs, including confusion, a drooping eye and drowsiness, before his death. But he was twice discharged by Whittington A&E doctors who thought he had an ear infection and a migraine.

Dr Richard Jennings, divisional director of integrated care and acute medicine at the Whittington, said the hospital will promote the use of a passport.

He said: “It would certainly contribute to doctors being able to make the correct diagnosis. Medical provision across the country is not what it should be for people with learning disabilities.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “People with learning disabilities deserve to have high quality care, be treated with dignity and to have outcomes that are comparable to those without learning disabilities.”