A FATHER who campaigned to improve the diagnosis and treatment of blood clots after the death of his daughter said he was “disheartened” to discover a rise in fatalities over the past 15 years.
The figures obtained by Gordon McPherson under freedom of information indicate that there has been a 50 per cent increase in the death rate from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in Scotland since 2006.
Mr McPherson, from Renfrewshire, said he was also shocked to discover that health boards are still failing to use a single, consistent patient leaflet outlining the signs and symptoms of DVT, and that no health board could tell him what they were spending on the assessment and treatment of the condition.
Some were also still using out-of-date clinical guidelines.
“It gets you quite angry that the health boards are just slipping back to how it was before Katie’s death,” said Mr McPherson.
“As if all the campaigning we’ve done over the past 18 years was just a waste of time.”
According to FOI responses from six health boards, the death rate from DVT in Scotland has climbed from a low of 25.2 per 100,000 in 2006 to 36.2 per 100,000 last year.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it did not hold figures and others, including Tayside, have not responded.
Grampian and Lanarkshire – which provided numbers of DVT deaths rather than rates – have also seen an increase over the past seven to 10 years.
“It’s very disheartening,” said Mr McPherson.
In January 2003, Katie McPherson, a 23-year-old student occupational therapist, developed a pain in her lower leg.
She attended both the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, but both wrongly dismissed DVT as the cause – despite warnings from Ms McPherson herself.
Days later, she fell seriously ill at home and died on her way to hospital.
Mr McPherson said he was later shown an ultrasound which revealed that his daughter’s leg had been “a mass of DVTs”.
“It wasn’t just one DVT they’d missed,” he said.
“It was a catalogue of errors. If they had treated here correctly after assessing her correctly, Katie would still be here.
“At the time, we were told had she been given five injections costing a pound each she would still be alive. But they didn’t give her those injections.”
An investigation by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman criticised different approaches to dealing with DVT between hospitals as a factor in her death.
It called for the creation of national guidance and a standardised take-home leaflet for all patients tested for DVT was also created, with funding from taxpayers and charity, in memory of Ms McPherson.
However, an internal audit by an NHS watchdog in 2009 found that there were still “inconsistencies across the country” and in 2014 then-chief medical office Sir Harry Burns wrote to health boards following a previous FOI investigation by Mr McPherson warning of a “lack of consistency in the implementation” of the new SIGN 122 guidelines on blood clots.
Speaking ahead of World Thrombosis Day on Wednesday – and days after what would have been Katie’s 42nd birthday on October 7 – Mr McPherson said he was “really disheartened” to discover that the patient leaflet had also vanished from the NHS Inform website.
“It wasn’t there until I pointed it out to them, then it went back on. It feels as though there is no one overseeing that the health boards are adhering to the guidelines or even looking at how they can improve on the death rates.
“When they went out originally, each and every health board in Scotland – in fact to each and every GP practice in Scotland – received a batch of these consistent, common leaflets with a covering letter from Harry Burns.
“But then I did a blind telephone follow-up to a few of the GP surgeries and found they they had just been thrown in the bin, unopened.
“One of the things I pushed very, very hard for was the patient information leaflet because for the frontline staff to have any hope of helping someone presenting with a suspected DVT, the patient has to know that they think it’s a DVT in the first place.
“An awful lot of people don’t know what the signs and symptoms of DVT are.”
Lothian MSP, Miles Briggs, who has worked with Mr McPherson to try to bring attention to the rise in DVT cases and persuade ministers to investigate, said the figures were “concerning” and “shows the urgency for practices to be reviewed”.
Mr Briggs added: “It is vital that all health care professionals are fully aware of the signs that someone has DVT for early detection, so that they can be treated.
“Having consistency of information across health boards is important, to ensure that best practice are being carried out and prevent people dying from DVT.”
Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “It is deeply worrying to hear that recorded cases have risen so dramatically.
“When Katie McPherson died from a DVT in 2003, her father Gordon campaigned to raise awareness and worked with the former Chief Medical Officer to provide an information leaflet.
“It is disappointing that health boards are not even using that leaflet. It really is high time that health boards pulled out all the stops to raise awareness of the condition.”
The Scottish Government said that implementation of clinical guidelines is the responsibility of each health board.
A spokesman added: “All NHS boards in Scotland have access to a range of tools and resources developed by Healthcare Improvement Scotland to improve reliable delivery of evidence-based interventions to patients at risk of harm from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and to contribute to the overall aim of reducing mortality and harm in acute hospitals.”