In March 2015 the Government announced that a deal had been struck with GlaxoSmithKline for the provision of the Bexsero vaccine against Meningitis B. All babies will therefore soon be vaccinated against Meningitis B as part of the national childhood immunisation programme.
Around 3,200 people a year contract bacterial meningitis and associated septicaemia in the UK. For decades, Meningitis B infection has been the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK.
Meningitis B is most common in children under five and a young child with meningitis may display the following symptoms:
One in 10 cases of meningitis is fatal and there will be long-term problems such as amputation, epilepsy, deafness or acquired brain injury in one in four cases. It is therefore very important to act quickly upon the suspicion of meningitis.
Meningitis usually comes on very quickly and can be confused with flu symptoms. The development or suspicion of meningitis is a medical emergency and urgent treatment will be required in hospital if the meningitis is bacterial. This will be primarily with antibiotics but oxygen therapy, IV fluids (fluids given by a needle going directly into the vein) and steroids may also be required depending on the severity of the condition.
Babies who suffer from neonatal meningitis - that is meningitis that occurs in the first month of life - are most at risk of serious long-term complications such as acquired brain injury.
Compensation payments relating to delayed or missed diagnoses of meningitis are not uncommon and frequently lead to very high awards for damages as these reflect the seriousness of the injuries that an individual is left with.
Recent reported cases of this nature have resulted in awards for damages between £2-3 million, plus yearly payments of up to £300,000 for life. The cost to the NHS for errors surrounding meningitis care is therefore very high.
It is hoped that the potentially lifesaving Bexsaro vaccine will be introduced from around September 2015 and given to infants at two, four and 12 months of age. A catch up programme will be in place but those children who are over four months old when the vaccine is rolled out are unlikely to receive it on the NHS.
The vaccine can be purchased privately and given by a GP or travel clinic. The NHS recommends that private payment for the vaccine should be around £75 per dose but charges are being levied of up to £135 per dose, making it inaccessible to many.
Given the prevalence of Meningitis B, the introduction of the vaccine should not only mean that lives are saved, but also that a significant amount of money is saved for the NHS in both expensive meningitis treatment and compensation claims arising from errors in meningitis care.
Helen Hammond, associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, comments: “We very much welcome the introduction of this vaccine but, given that those up to five years of age are the most at risk of contracting Meningitis B, we urge the NHS to consider extending the catch up programme so that all those children under five at the time of its introduction are vaccinated. This move would help to limit the potentially life-shattering consequences of Meningitis B."
The Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team is experienced in dealing with cases where delays in diagnosing meningitis have left a child or adult with serious ongoing health problems.
If you are concerned that your condition, or that of your child, may not have been diagnosed quickly enough we may be able to represent you in a clinical negligence claim to recover money to help deal with the resulting injuries. Call 0800 328 9545 for an initial free chat.