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Death of Inverness toddler from cancer could have been avoided, fatal accident inquiry finds

By Val Sweeney

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Jessi-Jean MacLennan died aged 20 months.
Jessi-Jean MacLennan died aged 20 months.

The death of an Inverness toddler could have been avoided had doctors not missed opportunities to give a correct diagnosis, Inverness Sheriff Court has ruled.

Jessi-Jean MacLennan – the daughter of Sara and Paul MacLennan – was 20 months old when she died of Wilms tumour, a rare kidney cancer found in children.

A fatal accident inquiry heard that despite being taken to the GP's surgery five times by her concerned mother between July and October 2019, doctors failed to give a correct diagnosis.

She was also taken to Raigmore Hospital where there were further missed opportunities by medical staff who diagnosed constipation.

In November 2019, she collapsed at home after vomiting and an ambulance was called.

She was taken to Raigmore Hospital's accident and emergency department where an ultrasound examination subsequently revealed a tumour on Jessi’s left kidney.

She was then taken by air ambulance to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow where she was diagnosed as suffering from a Wilms’ tumour, otherwise known as nephroblastoma.

She started emergency chemotherapy treatment but died a few days later after suffering a cardiac arrest.

There are fewer than 50 cases of Wilms’ tumour each year in the UK.

But current research shows that even at an advanced stage, it has a cure rate of 85 per cent.

Following the fatal accident inquiry, Sheriff Eilidh Macdonald determined that precautions might realistically have resulted in Jessi's death being avoided.

She stated: "The evidence clearly shows that Mrs MacLennan did absolutely everything she could to try and get the help her daughter needed from the doctors.

"Mrs MacLennan could have done no more than she did for Jessi.

"All participants in the inquiry recognised the enormity of the family’s loss and I extend my deepest condolences to Mr and Mrs MacLennan and the family."

It was also noted that the Procurator Fiscal issued notice of the inquiry in November 2022, almost three years after Jessi’s death.

Sheriff Macdonald said: "That is a significant delay and is regrettable and must have been, without doubt, difficult for the family to endure. The Covid-19 pandemic did have a part to play in that delay."

An NHS Highland spokesperson said: "NHS Highland participated fully in the FAI and we acknowledge the findings laid out in the determination.

"Since this tragic case a number of improvements and additions have been made to develop the service within the Paediatric Assessment Unit at Raigmore Hospital.

"We would like to pass on our sincere condolences to Mr and Mrs MacLennan and their family."

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