BBC Inside Out to focus on meningitis

11th March 2019

Viewers in the South East should tune in to BBC One at 6.30pm tonight (Monday 11 March) for their regional news programme and again at 8.30 for Inside Out

BBC Inside Out to focus on meningitis

This edition of the regional programme that features real-life stories and investigations will focus on the sad story of Tim Mason, who died from meningitis in March last year.

The South East Today programme is also scheduled to return to the subject at 6.30pm tomorrow (Tuesday 12 March), with the focus on meningitis vaccination

In the programmes Tim’s parents, Fiona and Gavin Mason and his brother Nick, return to East Sussex College in Eastbourne, which Tim was attending at the time of his death, to alert students and staff to the dangers of meningitis and help raise awareness of the availability of the MenACWY vaccine

The family is shown talking to a group of students about Tim and his story and seen raising awareness on campus, handing out our signs and symptoms cards. The family’s oldest son, Alex, who has been supporting their fight every step of the way, was not available to take part in the filming. 

Our Chief Executive Dr Tom Nutt was also interviewed on the day, for what we hope will be an impactful broadcast.

MenW

Tim, 21, was attending the college and working as an apprentice electrical engineer when he became ill on 16 March last year. In just over 21 hours from the first visible symptoms he had lost his life to MenW.

MenW (meningococcal group W meningitis and septicaemia) is a new and particularly deadly strain of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia, which carries a higher than usual death rate (13 per cent) and particularly affects teenagers and young adults. MenW can also often present with different symptoms, such as gastro-intestinal problems.

Following a rapid rise in cases from 22 in 2009 to 117 in 2014 (Public Health England figures) the MenACWY vaccination programme was introduced for teenagers in 2015. However, older teenagers (year 13 school leavers) needed to book an appointment with their GP to get their free vaccine, and Public Health England data showed that uptake among people who left school in 2015 and 2016 had been worryingly low.

Last year though, for the first time, the number of cases of MenW decreased.

Fiona said: “In our discussions with friends and family it has proved very difficult to find any awareness of this strain of the disease; indeed people felt they knew about meningitis, and their shock when we described the ferocity of MenW and the difficulty in diagnosis proved incredibly powerful. The existence of a new strain to this country, with different symptoms and more life-threatening than other strains is news to most people. We need to jolt people into action to take up the MenACWY vaccine to combat this strain along with the others.”

Missed opportunities

An inquest last year heard how Tunbridge Wells Hospital missed several opportunities to diagnose Tim’s condition and discharged him without further treatment. Tim was rushed back to A&E but despite treatment and being put in an induced coma he died later that day.

At the time the coroner, Roger Hatch, said: “Had he been correctly diagnosed it is most likely he would have been prescribed intravenous antibiotics and he would not have died. Tim was never offered the MenACWY vaccine in spite of being in the priority vaccination group.”

Fiona added: “Our fight is to understand how our kind, fun-loving, bright boy could have suffered this catastrophic systems and professional failure in a modern hospital under the National Health system we are all so proud of. We fight to expose the failures of the vaccination system and these battles have enabled us to get up and face each day, in the hope that we might do some good and stop another family from suffering the same loss. Taking part in the Inside Out programme was for us an important part of this."

Heartfelt hope

“We hang on to the heartfelt hope that those who see the programme and read about Tim’s story will want to make sure none of those we can save by the simple administration of a vaccine are missed, as Tim was missed. The hospital has admitted full responsibility and causality for Tim’s death and we are trying to work with them to change their systems and in doing so perhaps a life will be saved. If we can spread the word and encourage all those unvaccinated 18 to 25-year-olds to ask for the vaccine yet more lives might be saved."

“We would then feel Tim’s approval. His mantra was ‘get your s**t together’, so that is what we are now trying to do for others.” 

Our Chief Executive Tom Nutt said: “Tim’s story shows all too well the devastating speed and impact of meningitis, and the absolute importance of vaccinations to protect against it."

“We thank Fiona, Gavin, Alex and Nick for their bravery and determination to raise awareness on these issues and urge everyone who sees this broadcast to ensure they and their loved ones do all they can to protect themselves.”

If you miss the initial broadcast Inside Out is available on the BBC iPlayer.

Read more about vaccine eligibility.

We will feature More on Tim’s story following the broadcast.

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