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Written on 23rd July 2019 by Julie Marsh

When meningitis strikes, it often does so without warning followed by swift and devastating deterioration. Parents and healthcare practitioners must be alert to the danger signs and ready to act quickly to avoid tragic consequences. Whilst meningitis can affect people of all ages, news reports of tragic injury to babies and children are always heart-breaking, particularly where their harm was suffered as a result of missed opportunities and mistakes. Recent reports of two inquests into the death of children from meningitis serve as a timely reminder to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis.

Here at Boyes Turner, we were saddened to hear the recent reports from the inquests into the deaths of six-year-old Oliver Hall and 12-month-old Muhammed Harris Mahmood. Both children died following missed opportunities to diagnose and treat their meningitis.

What happened in these cases?

Oliver had been complaining of a headache, a sore jaw and had a fever (high temperature) that had not been responding to medication. He couldn’t watch TV because of the bright lights and just wanted to shut himself away in a dark room. His parents, concerned by his symptoms and the fact that Oliver was not acting like himself, called the 111 service. They recommend an ambulance be sent out to Oliver and passed over the details to the 999 service. The Coroner investigating the case was told that the ambulance service’s call handling system had not triggered an urgent response. Instead, two paramedics were sent to examine Oliver and they took him to his local GP surgery where he was diagnosed with a viral infection and sent home. Sadly, Oliver’s condition deteriorated in the following hours. His parents took him to hospital where his condition was diagnosed promptly on arrival, but the disease had taken hold and Oliver passed away just 24 hours after he contracted meningitis B.

Muhammed Harris Mahmood was taken to hospital with a high temperature and vomiting. He was sent home but his condition continued to deteriorate, so his parents took him back to hospital. A paediatrician who had reviewed the hospital care, told the inquest that the child had not been given a neurological assessment and his observations had not been reviewed. His parent’s concerns were not recorded in the medical records and although he was known to be suffering from excessively high body temperature when his parents brought him back to hospital, this important warning sign was not acted upon. During the inquest it became apparent that the NICE guidelines and the NHS trust’s own guidelines were not followed, and that the system used to identify early signs of serious illness had not been used. 

What changes have been made?

In both cases, the NHS trusts have tried to learn from these missed opportunities by implementing many improvements designed to prevent similar tragedies from happening in future.

Across the NHS, acknowledging and learning from mistakes, team-work, adherence to guidelines and patient safety systems, and increased training and awareness are the key to the prevention of this kind of avoidable harm in future.

What else is being done to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of meningitis?

The Meningococcal Working Group was formed by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in 2018 to coordinate and increase the efforts of all organisations who are involved in the prevention and treatment of meningococcal disease in raising awareness. In July 2018 the Group published a report making 12 recommendations for implementation by the NHS, the Care Quality Commission, Royal Colleges and charities, all working together to help raise awareness and improve diagnosis and treatment of meningococcal disease.

Are you aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis?

At Boyes Turner, we are committed to raising awareness of the signs, symptoms and dangers of meningitis. We support important awareness campaigns, such as those run by leading meningitis charity, Meningitis Now which, alongside medical research into vaccines and treatment, help inform and encourage advances in the prevention, recognition and treatment of meningitis, so that everyone has the best possible chance of avoiding the suffering caused by this virulent disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of meningitis?

Symptoms can appear in any order, and some may not appear at all. Do not wait for all or any specific or advanced signs to seek urgent medical help. Trust your intuition.

Early symptoms can include:

  • headache
  • vomiting
  • fever (with or without cold hands/feet)
  • diarrhoea
  • muscle pain
  • stomach cramps

Additional signs can include:

  • neck stiffness
  • blotchy skin/rash
  • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • confusion and irritability
  • fits/convulsions/seizures

If you suspect that you or someone close to you has early signs of meningitis, seek medical advice urgently.

If you or a member of your family have been injured by negligent treatment of meningitis, you can contact us to find out more about making a claim.