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Leigh Day clinical negligence lawyer comments on new NICE guidelines on neonatal infection

Some newborn babies are at risk of developing neonatal infections and their treatment must not be delayed

Photo of newborns: istock

23 August 2012

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued new guidance about the care to be given to babies who have or are at risk of developing a neonatal infection in the first 72 hours of life. NICE reports that in the past the recognition and treatment of early-onset neonatal infection has been unnecessarily delayed and there have been wide variations in the management of those at increased risk of developing infection.
Sadly, neonatal bacterial infections can have a catastrophic effect, causing severe injury or death. NICE reports that such infections cause the death of as many as 1 in 4 babies who develop them. Leigh Day & Co has extensive experience of dealing with cases involving the mismanagement of infection, including on behalf of children and babies who have suffered severe and permanent injury as a result of the delayed diagnosis or inappropriate treatment of infection and parents who have endured the death of a baby suffering from neonatal infection.

Leigh Day and neonatal infection

Specialist medical negligence lawyers at Leigh Day have represented a number of clients who were injured as young babies.
  • Russell Levy represented a child who was only a week old when she was infected with listeria. She was being cared for after her birth at the hospital when she was cross infected with listeria from another baby. She developed meningitis which caused brain damage. The infection also caused fluid to build up around her brain.  Russell secured compensation of £3.9m for his client
  • Frances Swaine secured a significant six-figure sum and periodic payments for a client  who developed meningitis soon after birth. Our client’s mother had been carrying the Group B Streptococci (GBS) infection which caused our client to develop meningitis at or shortly before birth leaving Y with brain damage and little prospect of ever living independently in the future.

A key recommendation of the guidance is the use of a new framework developed to “prompt a high level of concern” regarding early-onset infection and to help doctors decide which babies need antibiotics and which do not. The framework is made up of a set of tables containing 8 risk factors for and 23 clinical indicators of possible early-onset infection including 6 “red flag” features which clinicians should use to identify when further investigations and antibiotics should be started.

In addition to the framework, the guidance includes recommendations about the type of tests to be done before and while antibiotics are being given, the type and duration of antibiotics to be used as well as how quickly antibiotics should be started.

NICE has also made recommendations about communication between clinicians and pregnant women and parents or carers whose babies are at risk of infection and has developed written information to be given to parents when babies, in relation to whom there have been concerns about infection, are discharged from hospital so that parents know when to seek further medical advice.

Leigh Day & Co welcomes any recommendation intended to heighten the awareness of those caring for newborn babies to the possibility of infection and which encourages greater communication with parents during what can be a very worrying time for them.

Clinical negligence solicitor Kelly Lawford comments:

“We know from our cases that the consequences of inappropriate management of infection can have devastating consequences for patients and their families and we hope that the new guidelines will engender a more vigilant approach to managing those at risk of suffering an infection in the neonatal period”.

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