Publish date

30 January 2024

Inquest into delayed diagnosis of fatal epiglottitis infection

An inquest begins on 31 January 2024, into the death of Gavin Andrew, 43, who died at The Tunbridge Wells Hospital on 7 November 2022 from an infection of the epiglottis, which caused his airway to shut. Mr Andrew’s family is being represented by James Cahan of Thomson Snell & Passmore LLP.

Epiglottitis is an inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis, a flap of tissue that sits beneath the tongue at the back of the throat. In adults the main symptoms are swallowing difficulties and drooling. Epiglottitis can be fatal if the throat becomes completely blocked, but most people make a full recovery with appropriate treatment.

Mr Andrew was a fit and healthy father of two young children, who initially attended The Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Kent with symptoms of uncontrolled drooling, a swollen and painful throat, difficulty speaking and an inability to swallow. After being examined by a doctor, he was told he probably had a throat infection and was sent home with painkillers.

After deteriorating further, he was taken back to The Tunbridge Wells Hospital as he was struggling to breath.  By the time he was finally diagnosed with epiglottitis, and a suitably qualified member of staff was available to insert an airway, he had suffered a severe brain injury due to lack of oxygen, and he was placed on life support.  He never regained consciousness and sadly died twelve days later.

Mr Andrew’s family wish to take this opportunity to raise awareness of epiglottitis, in the hope that other families can be spared the tragedy of losing a loved one to a condition that is treatable if caught early.

Emma Andrew, Mr Andrew’s widow, comments: “Gavin’s family and friends meant the world to him and he made it a point of honour to never let anyone down. People often comment on Gavin’s larger than life personality, his infectious laugh, and his generosity with both his money and time. He has already missed out on so much of our children’s lives.

“He never got to see Henry in his first nativity, never got to see George walk or hear him talk. He will never see them graduate, never see them marry, and never see himself become a grandfather. He would have been so proud of them.

“I cannot put into words the void that his death has left and the heartbreak we feel every single day.”

James Cahan, Partner at law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore, who is representing Mr Andrew’s family adds: “There were a number of compounding factors on the 25th of October, across several hospital departments, which ultimately led to the tragic death of Mr Andrew.  It is anticipated that the three day inquest process will carefully examine each of the failures that occurred in the hospital, in the hope that the likelihood of this sort of tragedy occurring in the future, is greatly reduced”.

This inquest follows on from a prevention of future deaths report into the death of Leonard King in Milton Keynes from epiglottitis. The coroner in that case highlighted that “there is a tendency, except in those routinely dealing with acute emergencies of the airways, to regard typical symptoms as those of a sore throat or tonsillitis and not as the harbinger of sudden catastrophic obstructive epiglottitis. Education and training in the movement of epiglottitis into the adult population may assist in recognition and early treatment.”

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