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Written by Sita Soni

Boyes Turner’s medical negligence lawyers have secured a settlement for the widow of an elderly man who died after hospital doctors failed to diagnose and treat his shingles infection. The settlement was agreed even though the defendant NHS Trust denied that its repeated failure to treat suspected signs of shingles was negligent or that earlier acyclovir treatment would have prevented the man’s death. 

The deceased was an active 83-year-old man who had a medical history of rheumatoid arthritis and interstitial lung disease. His treatment for these conditions included steroids and immunosuppressants, which increased his vulnerability to infection. 

He became ill with a cough and went to see his GP who prescribed antibiotics. The next day he went back to the GP with a rash on his leg and groin area. The GP changed the antibiotics in case he was suffering from a drug reaction. He remained unwell for the next three days and was referred by his GP to the defendant hospital after he collapsed at home. On his arrival at A&E his cough, low grade fever and details of the appearance of the rash were noted along with the need to exclude shingles. The noted plan included having a more senior doctor and/or dermatologist review the rash and queried whether to start acyclovir. Acyclovir (also known as aciclovir) is an antiviral drug used in the treatment of conditions, such as herpes simplex, chicken pox and shingles. Correct treatment, given the deceased’s rash, other signs of infection and his weakened immune system, would have been to stop his immunosuppressants, take swabs from his rash blisters to test for viruses, and give him oral acyclovir for suspected shingles whilst waiting for the virology results. 

Instead he was prescribed topical (applied to the skin) acyclovir, his antibiotics were changed (assuming the rash was a reaction to his antibiotics), his steroids (and therefore his vulnerability to shingles infection) were increased and no swabs were taken until two days later. Whilst the viral tests were awaited, he was finally given an oral dose of acyclovir, but was discharged the next day with no further acyclovir. The day after his discharge the viral swab results confirmed that he had herpes zoster (shingles). No action was taken to contact the GP to ensure that the deceased was treated with acyclovir. A further two days later the deceased was re-admitted to hospital with pneumonia and sepsis. He was treated with antibiotics and his immunosuppressants continued. The following day his viral results were finally noted. He was given acyclovir orally, and only received intravenous acyclovir when he was diagnosed with varicella pneumonitis (from shingles) the following day. He continued to deteriorate and died soon afterwards. 

The deceased’s widow was financially dependent upon her husband and also relied upon him for domestic assistance and driving. The family contacted us and we helped them pursue a claim for compensation for the widow’s loss of dependency and other financial entitlements which arose from her husband’s negligent hospital treatment. The defendant NHS Trust denied liability, so we issued court proceedings. Liability remained in dispute but we were able to achieve an out of court settlement.