A FAMILY has demanded an apology from Bury's health bosses after surgeons failed to spot 16 broken ribs on their injured son who died a few hours later.

Nicholas Hitchen, of Whittingham Drive, Ramsbottom, died one year ago today (Fri June 14) after his modified Vauxhall Nova car spun out of control at Crostons Road and smashed into metal safety barriers.

The 19-year-old was not wearing a seatbelt and slammed into the steering wheel.

However, it was only three hours after the crash that the full extent of his injuries were correctly diagnosed at Bury General Hospital and a decision was then taken to perform surgery. The injuries were so severe the youngster died an hour later.

Professor John Neoptolemos, head of the Royal Liverpool University Hospital's department of surgery, who looked into the post-accident treatment, concluded there had been "very poor standard" of care from Bury General Hospital's surgeons.

Professor Neoptolemos had recommended an independent review into Nicholas's death, and the family is now waiting for its outcome, which is expected in the next few weeks.

An inquest in December last year, heard that a post mortem later revealed Nicholas had suffered 16 fractured ribs which were missed, despite three x-rays, by four senior consultants at Bury General Hospital's accident and emergency unit.

Professor Neoptolemos states in a letter to Mr Andrew Morris, the assistant general administrator: "My reading of the notes is that the assessment by Dr E El-Malek, staff grade in the A and E Department (Bury General) and subsequently by Mr Joseph, assistant specialist in surgery, was of a very poor standard and failed to appreciate the seriousness of the injuries.

"I believe that the severity of the injuries was such that they should have been detected much sooner."

He continues: "It seems that it was only at 1.30am, nearly three hours later (after admission) that Mr Hitchen was finally seen by a consultant surgeon who correctly diagnosed that he required thoracic intervention to save his life.

Prof Neoptolemos also notes that a recommendation by the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1997 for a trauma team at Bury General Hospital, including a general surgeon trained in advanced life support, had not been instigated.

The post death report by the college, which also investigated Nicholas's death, states that it was "imperative that Bury NHS Trust looks carefully with the health authority at the strategic arrangements for the management of major trauma".

The report adds: "The current arrangements are thoroughly unsatisfactory and we regard this case as a major failure of the systems involved rather than a valid criticism of the surgeon who was put, in our view, in an impossible position."

The results of Professor Neoptolemos's and The Royal College of Surgeons' reviews have been welcomed by Nicholas's parents.

Mother Mrs Christine Hitchen said: "The reviews are damning to say the least. They prove that Nicholas shouldn't have died and that he received poor treatment at Bury General Hospital.

"We are now awaiting the result of a review by Bury NHS Trust into my son's death. All we have ever wanted was for the Trust to hold its hand up and admit the consultant surgeons got it wrong and to apologise.

"The Royal College of Surgeons recommended in 1997 that a trauma team should be set up and yet it has not happened. If it had, then Nicholas's injuries would have been diagnosed sooner and he would have received the correct surgery to save his life. In the end his injuries were noticed too late and he died."

A spokesman for Pennine Acute Hospital Trust, formerly Bury Health Care NHS Trust at the time of the tragedy, said: "An independent review was held on May 30 and a report is currently being prepared. We are not in a position to respond until we have seen the report and considered its recommendations.

"We sympathise with the distress and grief suffered by Nicholas's family and will do everything possible to address the findings."