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Maternal death claim settled against Barnet Hospital for £1 million

The failure to diagnose and treat sepsis quickly enough led to the death of a mother soon after giving birth

Antibiotic drip

10 October 2018

A father who has been left to bring up his two daughters alone after the death of his wife has settled his clinical negligence claim against Barnet Hospital for £1 million.
 
Mrs V was admitted to the labour ward of Barnet Hospital following a spontaneous rupture of membranes with her second child. The following  morning she underwent an emergency Caesarean Section, which resulted in the birth of her daughter, and she returned to the ward at around 9am. 
 
At 10am Mrs V was recorded as having a very high heart rate and a low blood pressure.  These observations should have resulted in calling an experienced doctor but no one was called. There were no recorded observations between 2pm and 7pm. 
 
Mrs V developed abdominal pain at 6pm, and this was ascribed to the Caesarean or trapped wind. Observations were performed at 7.20pm and the low blood pressure from earlier that day persisted, although the pulse rate had reduced. 
 
Mrs V was reviewed by a junior doctor at 7.50pm who noted that she was sweaty and dizzy and that she had a low blood pressure. Sadly this did not trigger a suspicion that something was amiss, and the differential diagnosis should have included internal haemorrhage or sepsis. The doctor’s impression was that the uterus was contracting, or Mrs V was constipated, or there was an obstruction. 
 
No blood tests were taken, which would have alerted the medical staff that Mrs V had sepsis. Mrs V was given pain killers and peppermint water. 
 
At 10.45pm that night Mrs V was extremely unwell. She was described as clammy, unresponsive and her blood pressure was extremely low, and although this was a medical emergency, the care Mrs V received was substandard. 
 
There were multiple delays, failure to establish a secure line into the vein so that drugs could be administered (vascular access), failure to call in consultant support, failure to effectively treat severe sepsis and failure to rapidly transfer her to intensive care. 
 
Mrs V was not transferred to intensive care until around two hours later. At the time of transfer she still had no vascular access and following arrival on intensive care the insertion of a central venous line was delegated to the most junior member of the team who could not obtain any access. 
 
When the anaesthetist arrived on intensive care about an hour after Mrs V arrived he found she still had a low blood pressure, but there was still no vascular access. 
 
At 2.11am the following morning  there was a further worsening in Mrs V's condition. At this time despite being on intensive care for well over an hour she had received no additional 'intensive' care. Mrs V suffered a deterioration in her condition followed by cardiac arrest. Despite attempts to resuscitate her, she died of sepsis leaving her newborn baby and a one-year-old daughter without their mother.
 
The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust made an early admission of liability, and stated in documentation that but for its delayed diagnosis of sepsis, Mrs V’s collapse would have been prevented and she would have made a full recovery with a normal life expectancy.
 
Olive Lewin, clinical negligence partner at Leigh Day, said: “Nothing can bring back my client’s wife, who suffered appalling care at the hands of Barnet Hospital. Numerous opportunities were missed to diagnose sepsis, which would  have saved her life and allowed her the chance to see her daughters grow up. Lessons must be learned and procedures improved to ensure this never happens again.”

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