In a landmark case, an optometrist has been handed a two year suspended prison sentence following the death of a young boy, whose symptoms of a life-threatening brain condition were not picked up during a routine eye test.
When eight year old Vincent Barker visited a branch of Boots in Ipswich for an eye test, he was suffering with swollen optic discs. Honey Rose, the optometrist carrying out the test, failed to spot Vincent’s swollen optic discs which is a symptom of hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. The eight year old died around five months after the test in July 2012.
Ipswich Crown Court heard how Ms Rose had failed to examine the backs of Vincent’s eyes with an ophthalmoscope during the test, and that she had also failed to examine retinal photos of Vincent that were taken by a colleague.
Sentencing the 35 year old, Judge Jeremy Stuart-Smith said that although the breach of duty was a ‘single lapse’, the seriousness of the incident meant that it was a criminal act. The court also heard that after discovering that Vincent had died, Ms Rose attempted to ‘cover up’ her failings by claiming that Vincent had showed signs of photophobia. In an account that was dismissed as false by Judge Stuart-Smith, Ms Rose said that Vincent had not been cooperating with her at the time of the test.
Ms Rose, of East Ham in east London, was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter at Ipswich crown court. She was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and given a 24-month supervision order.
The ruling is thought to be the first conviction of an optometrist for gross negligence manslaughter. Judge Stuart-Smith told Ms Rose:
“You simply departed from your normal practice in a way that was completely untypical for you, a one-off, for no good reason.”
He went on to say that there was “nothing in [Vincent’s] general presentation that should have rung particular alarm bells for you” and that Ms Rose was “generally competent”.
He added that an immediate custodial sentence was not essential to highlight ‘the importance of optometrists properly discharging their duty to patients’ due to the fact the case had been so highly publicised.
‘Our loss should have been prevented’
Praising Vincent’s family for showing ‘dignity and restraint’ throughout the trial, Judge Stuart-Smith noted that they called for leniency when sentencing. A written statement from Vincent’s mother Joanne Barker said:
“The knowledge our loss should have been prevented and Vinnie should have been saved is intolerable to live with.”
Telling the court how Ms Rose had worked ‘extremely hard’ to qualify in India before moving to the UK, Ian Stern QC, mitigating, said:
“The loss of that vocation, which undoubtedly will happen when she comes before a fitness-to-practise panel, will affect her self-respect as someone who worked so hard to obtain those qualifications.”
He added that the case had “sent shockwaves round the optometric practice”.
Jonathan Rees QC, prosecuting, said that a letter from the Association of Optometrists expressed that there had been an increase in practitioners’ concerns regarding the way they carry out their jobs.
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Source: The Guardian