Student dies of flu after NHS advice to stay at home and avoid A&E

Harriet Agerholm
Melissa Whiteley, an 18-year-old engineering student from Hanford in Stoke-on-Trent, fell ill at Christmas: JustGiving

The family of a teenager who died from flu has urged people not to delay going to A&E if they are worried about their symptoms.

Melissa Whiteley, an 18-year-old engineering student from Hanford in Stoke-on-Trent, fell ill at Christmas and died a month later.

Tests showed the teenager was suffering from sepsis, flu, pneumonia and an infection, and she died on 27 January Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital.

Her mother Sharon Whiteley, 53, warned others to go to hospital if they were concerned.

“We knew that if you just have a cold, they don’t want you in A&E because you could pass more germs on or could waste their time but I would say to anyone if you’re not sure, go,” she told the Stoke Sentinel.

“You’re not wasting time, make sure and get it checked out.”

The NHS advises that flu can be fatal and older patients, or those with a long-term condition, should seek medical advice early.

But it adds "if you’re generally fit and healthy, the best treatment is to rest, stay warm and drink plenty of water".

The risk of infecting vulnerable patients is one of the reasons self-care is promoted.

But it is also because NHS services are at breaking point, in what Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted is the "the worst winter ever", with GPs and hospitals both struggling to manage demand.

Intense pressure over Christmas saw patients in parts of the country being told "don't visit hospital if you have flu-like symptoms" and advised "you can usually manage symptoms at home without seeing a doctor".

At the same time, senior doctors from the Whiteley family's local hospital were apologised for "third world conditions" as a result of overcrowding on the wards.

The family’s message comes after NHS figures revealed waiting times in A&E had hit the worst levels on record.

Figures also show 1,043 patients had to wait more than 12 hours on trolleys before being found a bed, double the previous month and exceeding the old record of 989 patients in January last year.

An outbreak of flu, which NHS England has called the "worst flu season in seven years", has led to 215 deaths across the UK so far this winter.

Ms Whiteley's father Mark, 50, said she had a ”great sense of humour”, while her twin Megan said her sister’s death had “broken her”.

A JustGiving page set up by the family of Melissa’s boyfriend has so far raised more than £4,000 towards her funeral costs.

A message on the crowdfunding site said: “Melissa was only 18 years old, when, on Christmas Day, she was taken ill with what was thought to be flu.

“Mel was a precious daughter, a loving twin sister, an amazing girlfriend and a friend forever to so many.

“She was a very brave and strong young lady, who fought for her life but sadly was taken from her family and friends far too soon, leaving her loving and caring family totally broken.”

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