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Settlement for family of baby with complex needs who died aged seven weeks

The mother of a baby girl who died aged seven weeks following a cardiorespiratory collapse has received a settlement from Barts Health NHS Trust.

Posted on 09 November 2021

The infant, whom we have called Emma, was her mother’s third child and was born with multiple congenital abnormalities, including a diaphragmatic hernia, entropion, microtia, micrognathia, facial asymmetry, facial nerve palsy, and other malformations.

Emma had to be intubated shortly after birth and underwent a successful operation to correct her hernia. After 10 days in hospital, she was able to breathe room air and was generally improving, although she still had to be fed through a nasogastric tube.

At 44 days of age, Emma was discharged home, with a plan for extensive community follow-up.

However, in her first two days at home, Emma was constantly cold and sweaty, and would cry excessively. On the third day, her mother was particularly concerned about Emma’s low temperature and took her back to the hospital, where staff made a note of the ‘excessive’ sweating, noted that she was cold and tachycardic, but advised that there was nothing seriously wrong and sent her home.

Emma’s mother then sought advice from their GP, who considered that Emma may have been suffering a viral infection caught from her new home environment. Emma’s mother was advised to keep a careful eye on her baby and to take her back to the hospital should her concerns continue.

Over the next few days, Emma developed new symptoms, including short and intense seizures. A community nurse visited and arranged an appointment with a hospital consultant and, the next day, Emma’s mother was able to show the consultant a video that she had taken of one of the seizure episodes.

The consultant agreed that Emma was clearly suffering from seizure activity, along with her other problems. He arranged for an electrocardiogram (ECG) and an electroencephalogram (EEG) to be performed the following day, but advised that they should await the results of these tests before considering any further treatment and Emma and her mother were again sent home.

That evening, Emma was in her father’s arms when she became floppy and stopped breathing. Her mother called an ambulance and they were taken to hospital, but resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful. A post-mortem examination report found that Emma had suffered a fatal cardiac arrythmia.

Following Emma’s death, the Trust undertook an internal investigation and had a meeting with Emma’s mother where it was acknowledged that it would be usual for an infant such as her to be admitted for close monitoring, and it was not clear why this had not happened. There was recognition and regret that the concerns raised by Emma’s mother had not been not listened to more carefully.

Following this meeting and an internal investigation, the Trust introduced new guidelines for the standard of postnatal reviews.

Emma’s mother instructed Leigh Day clinical negligence lawyers Sarah Campbell and Michael Roberts, who obtained advice from independent medical experts, and put Emma’s case to the Trust.

Despite the acknowledgment of poor care in the Trust’s internal investigation and at their meeting with Emma’s mother, the Trust formally denied liability for Emma’s death, on the basis that they did not consider any mistakes to have been made and that, even if mistakes had been made, Emma’s death would not have been preventable.

Emma’s mother, and her legal team, persisted and challenged the Trust’s reasoning for refusing to admit liability.

At that point, the Trust entered into negotiations which resulted in settlement.

Emma’s mother said:

“My baby had complex needs and she was precious to me. I felt that the hospital staff did not take her needs as seriously as they should have and that they were not listening to my concerns. I wish we had not had to take this action to make the Trust recognise that their postnatal reviews should be better.”

Michael Roberts, who represented the family along with Sarah Campbell, said:

“This was an extremely tragic series of events. Emma’s mother did everything she could to seek the treatment that Emma desperately needed, but was repeatedly turned away. We hope that this case has served to highlight the importance of paying close attention to the concerns of mothers of infants, particularly those with complex congenital conditions.”

Leigh Day worked with Sophie Beesley of Old Square Chambers.

Michael Roberts
Amputation Birth injury Brain injury Cerebral palsy Inquests Spinal injury

Michael Roberts

Michael Roberts is a senior associate solicitor in the medical negligence department.

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