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Death of baby caused by failure of Barnet Hospital to transfer him to paediatric cardiac unit

Emmalene Bushnell secures compensation for parents whose 5-month old baby died at Barnet Hospital

2 May 2012

Clinical negligence specialist Emmalene Bushnell of Leigh Day & Co has recovered a significant sum of compensation for a mother and father whose son died less than 36 hours after he was discharged back to the care of Barnet Hospital for feeding and monitoring after a successful mitral valve replacement at the Royal Brompton Hospital.

Dominic Whitehorn, who was five months old at the time, fell ill in September 2005. His mother took him to see the Health Visitor, who in turn contacted the GP, who referred Dominic to Barnet Hospital on 16 September 2005. Initially, Barnet were unable to diagnose what was wrong with Dominic.  A series of ECGs (tests which record the heart’s activity) were performed, three days after his admission.  However, despite the results showing abnormalities with Dominic’s heart the results were not acted upon. Dominic was eventually transferred by ambulance to St Mary’s Hospital late in the afternoon of 19 September 2005 following respiratory arrest where an echocardiogram was used to diagnose mitral valve stenosis, a condition in which a value in the heart is narrowed and so restricts blood flow in the heart.

Dominic was transferred to the Royal Brompton Hospital where he had heart surgery for congenital mitral valve stenosis on 30 September 2005. Having made a good recovery, Dominic was transferred back to Barnet Hospital for monitoring late in the afternoon on 14 October 2005. Within hours of his arrival Dominic was noted to be grunting, mottled and had problems breathing.

Throughout Dominic’s second admission to Barnet Dominic’s parents raised concerns about his condition.  As early as 10.00am on 15 October 2005 one of Dominic’s treating doctors told Dominic’s parents that he would recommend transfer back to Royal Brompton Hospital.  However, despite reassurances that Dominic would be transferred back to Royal Brompton Hospital, no arrangements to transfer Dominic back to Royal Brompton Hospital were made by Barnet Hospital until late in the evening of 15 October 2005.  This was despite his parents suggesting an ambulance be called or they drive him to Royal Brompton Hospital and his parents contacting Royal Brompton Hospital themselves, who agreed to take Dominic back, In the meantime, Dominic became increasing breathless with a rapid heat rate. Very late in the day the staff at Barnet Hospital seemed to realise Dominic needed help, but sadly Dominic suffered a cardiac arrest and died on 16 October

We obtained expert evidence from a paediatric cardiologist. Our case was that Dominic should have been reviewed by a senior paediatrician at Barnet Hospital on arrival from Royal Brompton Hospital on 14 October 2005. If this had occurred, the deterioration in his condition would have been detected and action taken to transfer him back to Royal Brompton Hospital, early on 15 October, which would have meant he could have been treated and would have survived.

The Barnet Hospital NHS Trust eventually admitted that there was a negligent failure on behalf of the Trust to transfer to Royal Brompton Hospital on 15 October 2005. Further, they admitted that had Dominic been transferred to Royal Brompton Hospital, he would, on the balance of probabilities, have received appropriate care such as he would not have died.

Compensation was claimed on behalf of Dominic’s Estate for his pain, suffering and loss of amenity.  His parents claimed bereavement damages and funeral expenses. A claim was also brought by his mother and father for psychiatric injuries suffered as a result of the distress in witnessing Dominic die, together with losses for past and future treatment and loss of earnings.

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Clinical negligence claims

Who worked on this case

Emmalene Bushnell