By Marie-Claire Kidd The death of a 61-year-old Norristhorpe woman who contracted tetanus after a fall was an accident, a coroner ruled. Coroner Roger Whittaker said doctors who failed to diagnose the disease in Sheila Creighton, who cut her face on a step at home in Milton Road, could not be criticised.
The hearing in Huddersfield on Wednesday was told Mrs Creighton visited Dewsbury District Hospital on April 6 last year after falling in her garden, and had told doctors she had been injected against tetanus in 1995, within department of health guidelines which call for immunisation every ten years.
Her GP Dr David Findlay of Brookroyd House, Heckmondwike, said there was no record of that injection but her family maintained she had received it.
The cut was cleaned and dressed and she was sent home but on her return to hospital she complained of head pains, watering eyes and loss of movement in her cheeks and was referred to facial specialists at Pinderfield Hospital, Wakefield.
The first seven doctors who attended her at Dewsbury and Pinderfield, all of whom had little or no experience of tetanus, said the disease had not even crossed their minds.
Dr Ed Walker of Dewsbury's A and E department said there was no visible foreign matter in the cut and immunisation had been up to date, but added communication between A and E and GPs could be improved.
Early signs of tetanus in Mrs Creighton – weakness of the jaw and paralysis of the forehead – were thought to be caused by the cut and swelling around it. The antibiotics prescribed were ineffective on the toxins produced by tetanus.
The doctors told the court tetanus was extremely rare in the UK due to immunisation programmes since 1961.
Dr Richard Loukota, who attended to Mrs Creighton at Dewsbury, added that one to three per cent of cases occurred on the head.
It was only after Mrs Creighton collapsed in the toilet at Dewsbury District Hospital on April 10 that Dr Deborah Tooley diagnosed the disease.
Ms Tooley, who had experience of tetanus from her native New Zealand, made the diagnosis over the phone and confirmed it on seeing Mrs Creighton.
Mrs Creighton had told her she had not been immunised for 20 years before 1995, so she had not been immune.
Now suffering from lockjaw and spasms, Mrs Creighton was taken into intensive care but died on April 29 from bronchial pneumonia and brain damage.
Mr Whittaker said the doctors' assumptions were "perfectly logical and understandable".
He had considered calling for stricter immunisation guidelines and routine tetanus toxoids for people with cuts but the chances of allergic reaction outweighed the benefits.
Mrs Creighton, a regular at Heckmondwike Cricket Club, retired from her job as despatch worker at Milita, Heckmondwike, 18 months before her death. She leaves husband Ronnie and daughters Julie and Janet.
Mr Creighton said: "She was very sociable person and very well loved, she had a lot of friends. There were hundreds at her funeral, we collected 750 for Pinderfield Hospital."