A couple who battled in vain to save their baby when he turned blue tell Oliver Thring how three doctors failed to diagnose him
Andrew Payne came home from work one afternoon in November 2012 expecting nothing more than his usual cup of coffee. He opened the front door to find his wife Mandy attempting to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to their six-week-old baby, James. The infant’s lips and fingers had turned blue and blood was pouring from his nose.
“It was like something from The Vampire Diaries because Mandy’s face was covered in his blood,” says Andrew, 39. “It was just the worst possible moment you could have in your life.”
Mandy, who today is herself seriously ill in hospital, had taken James to three doctors near the family home in Hadleigh, Essex, over the previous nine days, but one by one they told her there was nothing seriously wrong with her baby. The second visit followed an out-of-hours phone call. As revealed in today’s Sunday Times, recent figures on NHS weekend care show 20% higher death rates on Saturdays and Sundays. “We’ve since found out that some doctors and out-of-hours GPs use different computer systems. To me, that’s just poor,” says Andrew.
Several days before Andrew came home to that appalling scene, James had developed what Mandy, 33, calls a “barking cough that you wouldn’t wish on an adult … He was wheezing, throwing up his milk and sleeping a lot. And he got really fat in his face but nowhere else. I could feel from his back that he was congested.”
On November 12, she took James to see the family GP, Dr Maciej Bobnis, who said James had a mild cough and a runny nose. “He said it was just a noro [norovirus] infection and was at the age for it,” says Andrew. “And we thought fine, trust the doctors.”
Six days later, James’s symptoms had not improved. Mandy rang NHS Direct and said James had a barking cough, then took the baby to a second doctor, Hewa Dharmarathna, after an out-of-hours phone call. He has claimed Mandy did not tell him that James had a wheezing cough. She denies this.
On the morning of the 21st, more than a week after Mandy had first taken James to see a doctor, she drove her son to her local Kent Elms surgery in Eastwood. Dr Balavinayak Mohankumar examined James and later said he could not remember whether he had removed the infant’s clothes or exposed the chest for examination.
“Something in the back of my mind told me he hadn’t done a proper check,” says Mandy. “But I trusted him because he was a doctor. To me, it was like they were all frightened to touch James. There are so many stupid cases of sexual assault, people saying, ‘You touched my baby and shouldn’t have done.’”
Andrew agrees: “Doctors worry that if they examine a naked child they’ll get done.”