Muswell Hill man dies from “flesh-eating virus” after calling NHS hotline

Pete Oliver

Pete Oliver - Credit: Archant

An active gardener died from the rare condition after an NHS hotline failed to recognise he needed to be sent to hospital for emergency treatment, a coroner found.

Pete Oliver Photo: Highgate Cricket & Lawn Tennis Club and Chris Dixon

Pete Oliver Photo: Highgate Cricket & Lawn Tennis Club and Chris Dixon - Credit: Archant

Peter Oliver, a long-standing and competitive member of Highgate Tennis Club, phoned NHS 111, a non-emergency number, reporting leg pain, redness and a loss of mobility after he received an insect bite while gardening.

But the call handlers simply advised the 57-year-old to contact his GP within 12 hours, St Pancras Coroners Court heard last Friday.

Mr Oliver’s symptoms worsened and he managed to get hold of a GP to visit his house in the next two hours.

The GP sent him straight to the Whittington Hospital, where he was diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis, a “flesh eating disease,” or bacterial infection of a deep layer of skin, which can occur following any cut or scratch.

There are only around 500 cases a year, according to NHS guidance.

Surgeons tried to save Mr Oliver and he had his upper and lower leg amputated, but he died on September 16 from sepsis arising from necrotising fasciitis.

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Assistant coroner Richard Brittain questioned Dr Andrew Douglass, who has local responsibility for calls on NHS 111 hotlines, about why Mr Oliver’s “dangerous but rare condition” was not picked up on.

Dr Douglass said: “Because it is very rare, most GPs would not expect to see one case in their careers.”

Having listened to the call himself, he believed it was “handled well and in accordance with NHS guidelines”.

All call handlers, including paramedics and trained advisers, ask certain questions to flag up fatal conditions.

“The algorithm is to rule out serious conditions – not specific conditions,” Mr Douglass said.

Callers are told to dial 999, he said, if there are signs of shock, trauma, or loss of consciousness.

Witness Dr Mona Johnson, deputy clinical director of NHS Pathways, said Mr Oliver told the helpline he did not have a fever.

“This was a very unusual case and quite an unusual presentation,” she said. “It would be difficult to avoid deaths in similar circumstances.”

In a touching tribute to Mr Oliver on the Highgate Tennis Club website, friends described him as a “genuinely lovely guy who never had a bad word to say about anyone; always smiling and just great fun to chat to.”

“On court, he was indefatigable. Known to some as ‘Pistol’ Pete, he would just keep getting the ball back.”

Dr Brittain recorded a verdict of death from natural causes.

- Highgate Tennis Club are hosting a quiz night in honour of Peter Oliver on Feb 20. See: