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Deafness and brain damage after boy's misdiagnosed meningitis

Young client receives compensation after hospital missed meningitis

Posted on 26 July 2010

Nicola Wainwright of Leigh Day & Co is delighted to have been able to recover a significant sum of compensation for a young boy who was left with brain damage and severe hearing impairment as a result of a hospital’s delay in diagnosis of meningitis.

Sam, who was aged four months at the time, fell ill in November 1999. His parents were concerned enough to take him to Taunton Hospital, near where they were staying at the time, and to consult NHS Direct who reassured them their son probably just had a virus. However, Sam did not get better and by 30 November he was screaming and had a high temperature.  His parents took him to Accident and Emergency at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, London. The nurse who triaged him seemed concerned but despite this and him being recorded as being hot to touch, extremely pale and grey in colour and as having difficulty breathing he was discharged home by a paediatrician with a diagnosis of a viral upper respiratory tract infection.  By the next afternoon Sam was extremely ill and his parents returned to St George’s Hospital, where he started fitting.  He was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis.  Sadly, Sam was left with profound hearing loss, which required two Cochlear implants, a left-sided hemiplegia and cognitive deficits. 

We obtained evidence from seven experts on what the medical staff at St George’s should have done and what difference better care would have made to Sam. Our case was that given the signs and symptoms Sam was displaying the doctor should have suspected meningitis and Sam should have been admitted to hospital and treated with antibiotics on 30 November 1999.  If he had been he would have escaped his injuries.

The Defendant NHS Trust admitted that the paediatrician was negligent to have discharged Sam home on 30 November but claimed that even if he had been admitted he would not have received earlier treatment and/or that earlier treatment would not have prevented his injuries.  At one point they suggested that Sam’s hearing loss was not caused by the meningitis, although there was no evidence to support their arguments.

In light of the NHS Trust’s approach we had to issue Court Proceedings and the case finally settled approximately a month before it was listed for trial, when the Defendant NHS Trust agreed to pay a sum equivalent to approximately £1.5 million.  Compensation was claimed to ensure that Sam could obtain all of the help and assistance he needs now and in the future. For example, the money has helped his family appeal the local education authority’s refusal to pay for Sam to go to the school of his choice and it is hoped that the compensation recovered will help Sam to live as independently as possible as an adult.

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