Coroner warns NHS England of impact of neurology delays and staff shortages

A Senior Coroner has warned NHS England of the impact of neurology waiting times and capacity issues following the death of a man who waited two months for an urgent appointment.

Penelope Schofield, Senior Coroner for West Sussex, Brighton and Hove, sent a Prevention of Future Deaths report to NHS England and NHS Improvement following the conclusion of an inquest into the death of Nicholas Pennicott.

child in blue hoodie sitting on floor

On 19th August 2021 Pennicott, who was suffering from Guillain Barre Syndrome, suffered a cardiac arrest at his home address. His health had been deteriorating and at the time of his death he had been waiting more than eight weeks to see a neurologist following an urgent referral, a delay that caused him additional stress and anxiety.

His health had been deteriorating since March 2021 and this resulted in an admission to A&E at St Richards Hospital on 23rd June 2021. Following this admission he was given an urgent referral to see a neurologist as an outpatient.

But despite his GP and family chasing up this appointment, he was not offered an appointment until 19th August 2021. He suffered a cardiac arrest in the early hours of the very day that his appointment was due to take place.

The conclusion of the Inquest was that he died from natural causes.

‘During the course of the evidence the Hospital explained that long waiting times for neurology outpatient appointments was a persistent challenge for the Trust due to capacity issues within the neurology service,’ Schofield wrote in her report to NHS England and NHS Improvement.

‘There had been a long-term vacancy, of three years, within the neurology service for a substantive neurology consultant at the hospital. The Inquest was told that there was a national shortage of neurologists. The Trust had relied on long term locum consultants, leading to some short-term gaps in provision.

‘The shortage of Neurologists nationally and the capacity issues within the neurology service at the Hospital led to a missed opportunity for Mr Pennicott to receive earlier specialist assessment.’

Schofield wrote in her report: ‘In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken.’

NHS England and NHS Improvement are required to respond to the report by 4th July.

Image: Vladimir Fedotov


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