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Meningitis death toddler's parents highlight 'issues' with diagnosing disease

The parents of a toddler whose death prompted hundreds of thousands of people to back a campaign calling for greater provision of the meningitis B vaccine have said there are "issues" with diagnosing the disease.

Neil and Jenny Burdett, whose two-year-old daughter Faye died on Valentine's Day after an 11-day fight with the disease, said they were "not taken seriously " by a "dismissive" health worker.

An image of the youngster, from Maidstone, Kent, covered in a rash and lying in a hospital bed just before she died was shared by her family. The harrowing picture prompted a flood of support for a petition calling for the meningitis B vaccine to be given to all children.

Faye's father Neil Burdett told MPs that the family shared the picture to try and prevent others from suffering the same fate.

"That was just to raise awareness, if nothing else, to stop other families and other children from going through the two weeks we had just had," he said.

Giving evidence to MPs from the Petitions Committee and the Health Committee, Faye's mother Jenny Burdett said she called the NHS 111 number to give details of Faye's symptoms and they sent a paramedic - who advised them to see their family doctor. The GP sent the toddler straight to hospital but she was initially diagnosed with a viral infection and sent home.

Mrs Burdett said: "Our failing, we believe, is when we got to the hospital. We were, I wouldn't say pushed aside...

Mr Burdett continued: "Not taken seriously I think, and the GP was not taken seriously.

Mrs Burdett added: "She was dismissive."

Mr Burdett said he felt medics were too cautious in suggesting that a child may have meningitis.

"No one wants to make that decision," he added.

He told MPs: "We were there (at hospital) for two hours and discharged with a viral infection. Six hours later we were back there and she was critically ill. So we do obviously have issues with diagnosing it."

He continued: "There is definitely a difficulty with diagnosing it, either that or they don't want to jump to that but I would say that there is an issue there."

Mr Burdett said his daughter would still be alive if she had not been misdiagnosed.

"It's that seven hour gap where she was given no treatment - that's when we lost Faye because the meningitis was allowed to progress too far," he said.

He said when they returned to hospital for the second time, the care they received was "incredible" but it was too late.

He added: "They knew exactly what it was and started treating straight away. If it had happened six hours earlier we would probably still have our little girl."

Ex-England rugby captain Matt Dawson told MPs there needs to be more awareness of the condition.

He joined the campaign following his two-year-old son Sam's battle with meningitis W, which he survived, in February this year.

Also giving evidence to MPs was Lee Booth, who instigated the most-signed online petition in parliamentary history.

Mr Booth, who started the petition after one of his daughters was refused the vaccine on age grounds, told the committee: "What price do you put on a child's life at the end of the day? We have got a vaccine out there, we should be using it."

More than 823,000 people signed the petition but the Government rejected calls for the meningitis B vaccine to be given to all children, with officials saying the NHS budget is a "finite resource".

The Department of Health has said its priority is to vaccinate those children considered most at risk from meningitis B.

It said it is following guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the Government on the cost-effectiveness of vaccinations.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Dawson added: "Cost effectiveness gets mentioned numerous times in the response from the Government so you know it's high on their agenda but what are the ramifications of these children that are maimed by this disease? The cost of that to the tax payers is absolutely enormous.

"I would like to think that it would be slightly more cost effective to have the vaccine rather than treat it and having to go through the pain and emotion that these families have."

A vaccine to protect against meningitis B is available on the NHS for babies aged two months, followed by a second dose at four months and a booster at 12 months.

The vaccine was introduced as part of the routine immunisation schedule last September.

Parents who wish to have older children vaccinated must pay privately, although a worldwide shortage of the vaccine Bexsero means stocks are very low.

Manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) hopes to have increased stocks in the UK by the summer. The NHS programme is unaffected.

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