This Sunday is World Tuberculosis Day and, once again, Penningtons Manches is supporting the campaign to raise awareness of the disease.
Although tuberculosis (TB) can be cured, if there is a delay in treatment, the disease can prove to be fatal.
Emma Beeson, senior associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, knows this all too well after having now represented a number of families who have lost loved ones following failures by hospitals in England and Wales to recognise and treat TB.
Last year, Emma settled a claim against Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for the family of a mother and grandmother who tragically passed away after hospital staff failed to diagnose and treat her for TB in time to save her life, despite obvious warning signs.
Prior to this, Emma successfully settled a claim against Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust after it was admitted that there were failures by doctors in the care provided to a 70 year old woman with TB. In this case, whilst appropriate treatment was eventually given, it came too late and her family lost a much loved wife, mother and grandmother.
Emma comments: “From our experience of supporting claimants in cases where there has been a failure by medical professionals to diagnose and appropriately treat TB in a timely manner, it is clear that there is still a lack of awareness of TB in this country. Even when a positive diagnosis has not been made, if there is a high suspicion of TB as part of the differential diagnosis, appropriate treatment should be administered.
“World Tuberculosis Day is an important day in the calendar to remind people that TB is not a disease that has been eradicated from the UK and is very much an issue that people need to be aware of.”
In honour of World TB Day, an increasing number of campaigns and events are organised each year. For example, a team of specialist tuberculosis nurses in Sheffield held an information event in the city centre this week to raise awareness of the illness.
Despite TB being more prevalent in other parts of the world, such as Africa and South East Asia, there have reportedly been 88 cases of TB in Sheffield alone since April 2018.
TB is an infectious disease which is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. TB mainly affects the lungs but can have an impact on any part of the body, including the glands, bones and nervous system.
Patients should be aware of the typical symptoms of TB, which include:
The NHS recommends that individuals should see a GP if they have a long-term cough or if they cough up blood.
While TB is a serious condition, it can be cured with correct medication. NICE guidelines from 2016 state that ‘if clinical signs and symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of tuberculosis are present, then treatment should be started without waiting for culture results’.
Sadly, Penningtons Manches has experience of dealing with cases where patients have died due to the failure of doctors to act quickly on the basis that they did not have test results to confirm the disease despite clear clinical suspicion that it was present.
Unfortunately, there also continues to be a misconception that TB is an active disease which produces immediate symptoms. This is not correct. In some patients, a defensive barrier is built around the infection and TB bacteria lie dormant. This latent TB can spread if the defensive barrier later fails, meaning that TB can develop within the lungs or in other parts of the body.
Health chiefs have warned that those most susceptible to latent TB include people born in one of the 70 at-risk countries - including Thailand, India and the Philippines - or who have spent more than six months in one of these countries. The concern is that they may be totally unaware that they are carrying latent TB.
Accordingly, it was announced earlier this year that the NHS in Birmingham was planning to visit local mosques to screen people who may be carrying tuberculosis without realising it.
Cases involving a failure to diagnose and treat tuberculosis, particularly miliary tuberculosis, are quite specialised. If you or a loved one have concerns regarding a failure by medical professionals to diagnose and treat TB, our specialist team may be able to help.