Settlement of claim following the tragic death of a young girl from sepsis

Our clinical negligence team has recently settled a claim for the mother of a 14-year-old girl who sadly passed away from sepsis in 2018. Her death resulted from failings in her medical treatment while under the care of the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust.

The young girl suffered from cerebral palsy and scoliosis (curvature of spine), for which she received surgery a few months before her death. In March 2018, she experienced diarrhoea, abnormal breathing, and a temperature, and was admitted to Russells Hall Hospital as an emergency. The ambulance records noted that sepsis was possible. The medical records after she arrived in hospital were unclear as to when IV fluids and antibiotics were commenced, but it was clear this did not take place within one hour, in line with the trust’s own guidance and the NICE guidelines. There were also delays in escalating her care given the severity of her condition. She deteriorated and was later transferred to critical care. Sadly, she continued to worsen, and she passed away a few days later.

Our client, the young girl’s mother, made a complaint to the trust and an internal investigation was commenced. As part of the clinical negligence claim, we alleged that there were a number of failings in treating our client’s daughter’s sepsis, including delays in providing IV fluids and antibiotics, delays escalating her care to suitably senior clinicians, and delays in admitting her to critical care.

Our client was also concerned about the care her daughter had been receiving, before her death, in relation to her scoliosis. This care was provided by the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. Expert evidence was obtained as part of our specialist investigations. Our evidence indicated that there was a considerable delay in providing the young girl with surgery to correct her scoliosis. During the period of delay, she experienced significant pain and suffering, as her posture worsened. Our evidence also indicated that she had a worse outcome when the surgery was eventually performed, due to the delay.

The Dudley Group admitted that the care provided to our client in relation to her sepsis was inadequate and that this probably caused her death. It apologised and advised that it has learnt from the failings in her care and has improved its management of paediatric patients as a result. After some negotiations, a settlement was reached. Although no admissions were made in relation to the scoliosis aspect of the claim, the settlement included some compensation in respect of this.

This case demonstrates the tragic consequences of a failure to recognise and treat the symptoms of sepsis in a timely manner. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition, and it is vital to act quickly if it is suspected, especially in a vulnerable patient such as this young girl. Nothing can ever make up for what her family has lost, but we hope that the settlement of this claim brings them some sense of resolution and that future young patients may benefit from the lessons learnt by the trust.

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