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Compensation for delayed diagnosis of meningococcal septicaemia

Our client, a six-year-old, has received substantial compensation after her meningitis was misdiagnosed by Northwick Park Hospital.

Posted on 19 May 2008

Nicola Wainwright, partner in the clinical negligence department at Leigh Day & Co, is pleased to report settlement of a claim on behalf of a six-year-old girl who suffered injuries as a result of a delay in diagnosis and treatment of meningococcal septicaemia.

Our client became seriously ill in the early hours of the morning. She was complaining of pains in her arm and neck and a headache. She had a raised temperature, a rash and had been sick. When our client’s mother telephoned NHS Direct they advised her to carry out the tumbler test, in which a glass is rolled across the rash to see if the spots disappear. If the spots remain this is suggestive of meningitis. Our client’s rash did not disappear when the tumbler was applied and, so, NHS Direct called an ambulance to take her to hospital.

Our client was taken to Northwick Park Hospital where she was seen in the Accident & Emergency Department by a junior doctor. Despite her symptoms and her mother telling the doctor that her daughter had been in contact with another child who had meningitis the doctor discharged our client home.

Unfortunately, our client’s condition deteriorated to the extent that she became delirious and began to shake uncontrollably. Her mother had to call another ambulance to have her taken back to Northwick Park Hospital. On this occasion she was seen by a Paediatrician, who confirmed that she had signs of meningitis. Antibiotics were started that afternoon. Our client had to be ventilated and sedated. She was originally admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit and remained in hospital for around two weeks.

However, following discharge our client suffered ongoing problems. When she first woke up she could not walk and there were ongoing concerns about her limbs for over a year during which time she required intensive physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. She had gastrointestinal problems, similar to irritable bowel syndrome, which meant she missed a considerable amount of school, and she suffered from an anxiety disorder, specifically about her and her family’s health, and had developed a needle phobia.

We put forward a claim on our client’s behalf for compensation as a result of the injuries she had suffered on the basis that her injuries would have been avoided had she received antibiotic treatment when she first went to hospital. We claimed compensation for her injuries and for the financial losses that our client’s mother had incurred and was likely to incur in the future as a result of her daughter’s injuries. For example, the significant travel costs she had incurred visiting her daughter in hospital and also arranging for her other children to be taken to school and the cost of specific psychological treatment our client needed to treat her anxiety and needle phobia, which was not available to her on the NHS.

Northwick Park Hospital admitted that our client should not have been sent home when she first attended the Accident & Emergency Department in the morning. They accepted that instead she should have been kept in and given antibiotics earlier. They admitted that had she received antibiotics when she should have then she would have avoided some, but not all, of her injuries. They denied that our client had suffered any long-term injuries as a result of their negligence.

Despite the hospital initially insisting that their negligence did not effect our client, other than temporarily, after full investigation of the claim, including obtaining a number of expert reports, for example from a psychologist, gastroenterologist and paediatric neurologist, we were able to settle the claim. The NHS Trust responsible for Northwick Park Hospital apologised to our client and agreed to pay a significant sum to compensate her for the injuries she had suffered and to reimburse our client’s mother for the costs she had incurred and to enable our client to pay for necessary future costs, such private psychological treatment.

Because our client is a child the majority of her money will be invested by the Court until she reaches the age of 18. However, the Judge did agree to release the compensation paid in respect of the expenses our client’s mother had already incurred and she has used this money to take our client to Disneyworld for the holiday of a lifetime.

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