The father of a young Whangarei man who died of meningococcal disease feels let down by the health system after his son was twice sent home by doctors.

Apprentice plumber Ben Brown, 18, died in Whangarei Hospital on Saturday, after being admitted to the intensive care unit on Wednesday night in a serious condition.

He is the fifth person to die of the disease in New Zealand since late July.

Mr Brown's father, plumber Darren Brown, of Wanaka, arrived in Whangarei on Thursday, by which time Ben was in a coma.

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He said yesterday his son, who had just begun his apprenticeship, was too sick to go to work on Monday last week.

His condition deteriorated - he was vomiting, had a severe headache and a slight rash on his chest. Last Tuesday his girlfriend Kell-c McKenzie took him to the Whangarei White Cross Accident & Medical Clinic. He was assessed and sent home with medicine.

He continued to get worse and Ms McKenzie on Wednesday took him to the hospital's emergency department. He was again assessed and sent home with medication, but hours later was rushed back to hospital by ambulance.

The disease, although often hard to diagnose, is readily treated with injected antibiotics, if detected early enough.

Mr Brown believes his son would have survived if diagnosed earlier.

"There's something wrong for this to be happening.

"Kids going into hospital and getting checked for this bug and getting sent away, my concern is that these kids have got to stay there and make sure they get the right treatment.

"If you're sick, don't take no for an answer. It's got to be pursued a lot more.

"The doctors in the [emergency department] I'm sure they are very busy, but they have got to be aware."

Mr Brown said the family was distraught at Ben's death. He was a fit, active and popular young man.

"Freestyle BMX biking was his passion and he was very good at it."

Northland District Health Board spokeswoman Fleur King said Whangarei Hospital would not answer questions about its care of Mr Brown because the case was now before a coroner.

White Cross chief executive Alistair Sullivan declined to answer specific questions about his care because he lacked the family's permission, but did say that an initial check - a more extensive review was yet to be done - indicated he was managed properly and was advised what symptom changes should trigger seeking further help.

Meningococcal disease - which can cause meningitis and blood poisoning - was considered, but not diagnosed, Dr Sullivan said.

"Meningitis, particularly in its early stages, can be extremely difficult to distinguish from less serious illnesses such as the flu."

DHB medical officer of health Dr Loek Henneveld said Northland's total of six cases of meningococcal disease so far this year was fairly typical. Public health officials were still searching for any links between them.additional reporting Northern Advocate