Mother-of-five died from sepsis four weeks after having an abortion despite contacting her failed GP surgery for medical help several times, inquest hears

  • Sarah Dunn told doctors’ surgery she was experiencing nausea and sweating
  • She had previously contacted doctors’ surgery to warn about vaginal bleeding 
  • The mother-of-five, 31, reported the symptoms weeks after having an abortion
  • An inquest heard she was booked into a telephone appointment for next day
  • But she was rushed to hospital that morning and died there the following day
  • An inquest into Ms Dunn’s death is currently being held at Blackpool Town Hall 

A mother-of-five who passed away from sepsis four weeks after having an abortion had reached out several times to her failing GP surgery before she died, an inquest heard.

Sarah Dunn, 31, told her doctors’ surgery she was experiencing nausea, sweating, and abdominal pain in the days before her death in April last year.

Earlier she had told her GP, Dr Sanjeev Maharaj, at Blackpool’s Elizabeth Street Surgery, which has since closed following an ‘inadequate’ rating by watchdogs, that she was experiencing worsening vaginal bleeding. 

Dr Maharaj took standard blood tests – which did not show any signs of infection – and said she appeared ‘fairly well’.

He told an inquest that at the time he did not believe it necessary to send her to hospital.

When she called again, this time reporting nausea, sweating, and abdominal pain, she was booked in for a telephone appointment with Dr Maharaj.

But by the time of her telephone appointment the next morning, an ambulance was already en-route to her house. She died in hospital the next day.

An inquest into her death is being held at Blackpool Town Hall.

Sarah Dunn, 31, told Elizabeth Street Surgery (pictured) in Blackpool she was experiencing nausea, sweating, and abdominal pain in the days before her death in April last year

The inquest heard that Ms Dunn died of sepsis at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on April 11 2020, almost four weeks after undergoing a termination.  

After experiencing worsening vaginal bleeding, which a nurse had warned her about, Ms Dunn booked an appointment at Elizabeth Street Surgery. 

Dr Maharaj told an inquest that she appeared ‘fairly well’ and ‘was not showing any signs of infection’.  

Her temperature was average and a standard blood test came back normal, though her heart rate was slightly elevated.

Dr Maharaj said: ‘She was not complaining of any pains or symptoms of infection. There was no evidence that the patient had an infection at that time. 

‘If I felt she was unwell, suffering from severe abdominal pain, it’s possible I would have referred her to hospital at that time.’

The court heard that, at the time, Dr Maharaj was the only GP at the Elizabeth Street Surgery, and was responsible for around 5,000 patients.

The surgery closed its doors last week following a damning ‘inadequate’ rating from Care Quality Commission (CQC), which carried out an inspection in May.

The report found evidence that the practice failed to ensure that care and treatment was provided in a safe way , and that leadership was poor.

Last year, an investigation by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) also revealed a series of failures at the practice. 

Richard Baker, representing Miss Dunn’s family, said the court had only Dr Maharaj’s word that he had discussed the possibility of an infection with Miss Dunn, as he had not made any notes about it, and had only recorded his concerns about possible anaemia due to blood loss.

He asked the doctor why, if he was indeed concerned about Miss Dunn suffering from an infection, he did not refer her for a hospital test which would have determined whether this was the case.

Dr Maharaj said he did not believe it was necessary based on Miss Dunn’s presentation, adding: ‘At that time in the pandemic, patients were not being transferred to hospital unless there was an absolute need.’

Mr Baker, however, said: ‘I suggest the GP practice was understaffed, oversubscribed and badly organised. 

‘You do not accept that being understaffed, oversubscribed and badly organised had anything to do with Sarah’s death?’

Dr Maharaj said: ‘As far as I’m concerned I had no impact on her care.’

On April 9, Miss Dunn called the surgery again to request a prescription for painkillers, and complained of nausea, sweating, and abdominal pain. 

But the pharmacist she spoke to assumed her symptoms were a result of a lack of painkillers, and arranged for a telephone appointment with Dr Maharaj the next day.

She continued to deteriorate, and by the time she spoke with her GP the following morning, an ambulance was already enroute to her house. 

She was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where tests revealed high levels of CRP in her blood – a sign of infection. She died the following day.

Dr Alison Armor, who carried out the post-mortem, said Miss Dunn’s infection probably developed as a result of group A streptococcal bacteria in the vagina entering her womb during the termination, which took place on March 23.

She said: ‘A streptococcal infection, when it becomes invasive, is a rapid and overwhelming infection. 

An inquest into her death is being held at Blackpool Town Hall (pictured). The inquest heard that Ms Dunn died of sepsis at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on April 11 2020, almost four weeks after undergoing a termination

‘Prior to it becoming invasive, it can cause general symptoms of feeling unwell, maybe a high temperature or low temperature. But when it becomes invasive, it is a life-threatening condition.

‘I have seen a number of cases of pregnant women who have died after the birth of their babies due to group A streptococcus.’

Inflammation found in Miss Dunn’s vaginal tract and womb, along with a widespread rash, indicated her condition was ‘consistent with the process of medical termination of pregnancy.’

Dr Armor said: ‘It’s an unusual but well known complication associated with pregnancy, and can be contracted during or after childbirth, and it has also been documented following termination of pregnancy.’

She added: ‘It should be noted that medical abortion is not recognised as a high risk factor, but cases have been documented within medical records.’

The inquest continues. 

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