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Written on 29th June 2023 by Tara Pileggi-Byrne

Boyes Turner’s medical negligence solicitors have secured a £200,000 compensation settlement for the family of a 25-year-old woman who died after negligent hospital treatment for sepsis.

The young mother had a reduced life expectancy owing to pre-existing medical conditions. The claim was made on the basis that the hospital’s negligent delay in providing intensive care treatment for her sepsis brought forward her death by approximately eight years.

Negligent failure to recognise that the patient’s condition needed intensive care treatment

The young woman was taken to hospital by emergency ambulance after a nurse practitioner identified that she had red flag symptoms of sepsis. She had a history of recurrent infections which had needed IV antibiotics in hospital, and was unwell with vomiting and diarrhoea, abdominal pain and difficulty breathing. The ambulance staff noted she was cyanosed (indicating lack of oxygen) and short of breath. On arrival at the hospital at 1.10pm she was found to have severe hyperlactaemia and severe metabolic acidosis, signs of critical illness, and the critical care team were informed.

She remained in the emergency department in critical condition, severely acidotic with elevated heart and respiratory rates and dropping blood pressure, throughout the day. IV antibiotics were started mid-afternoon and a doctor made a diagnosis of sepsis possibly from  a bowel perforation. She was given fluids and the surgical and critical care teams were asked to review her. An abdominal CT scan was also suggested. A critical care review was carried out by a consultant anaesthetist who queried the cause of her vomiting and abdominal pain and noted the respiratory distress due to acidosis. Further blood gas tests showed worsening hyperlactaemia and metabolic acidosis, indicating that the fluid resuscitation was insufficient to treat her condition. 

At 5pm she was reviewed by a consultant physician who prescribed a CT scan, IV fluids, IV antibiotics, treatment under the sepsis pathway and urgent surgical and ITU review. She was taken for a CT scan which ruled out any obstruction but revealed a shocked bowel (from lack of blood supply) which, given her deteriorating condition, indicated that she would not survive without urgent, invasive respiratory support.

In the evening, a consultant surgeon noted that she needed high dependency unit (HDU) review and stabilising, possibly on ITU. She continued to deteriorate, and needed catheterisation as she was not passing urine, despite the continued fluid resuscitation. A further medical review noted that if she remained shocked after another hour of fluid resuscitation she should receive critical care inotropic treatment (to treat heart failure). She was later given a dose of hydrocortisone and the nurses called for medical review as she was severely hypoglycaemic and asking to be put to sleep as she couldn’t breathe. Glucose was given and she was reviewed by a doctor who noted that her condition hadn’t improved and she was peripherally shut down.

An ITU doctor came to review her at 9.30pm but was called away to help another patient. By the time the doctor returned at 10.15pm the young woman’s temperature had dropped and the nurses couldn’t take a blood sample for analysis. After discussion with the ITU consultant, she was transferred to the critical care unit (CCU). She was suffering from numbness in her hands and was increasingly cold, mottled, shut down and distressed.  She was finally taken to CCU at 11.55pm, where attempts were made to place an arterial line. During the procedure she suffered a cardiac arrest. She died after  resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful.

Hospital admitted negligent delay but denied causing the patient’s death

We helped the young woman’s father make a medical negligence claim against the hospital on behalf of his daughter’s child and her estate. The majority of the claim related to the financial costs of replacing the child’s ‘loss of dependency’ on his mother’s care for the remaining years in which she would have been able to care for him.

The claim was based on our expert’s view that the medical team failed to recognise that the young woman’s deteriorating condition was not responding to fluid resuscitation, and her death was caused by their negligent delay in transferring her to the CCU for intensive care. With correct and timely critical care her distress and suffering, severe deterioration, cardiac arrest and death would have been avoided. The hospital admitted some negligent delay in the young woman’s treatment but denied that her death would have been avoided with correct treatment.

The claim settled out of court for a compensation payment of £200,000. In accordance with the court’s order approving the infant settlement, the majority of the settlement funds were paid into court for the benefit of the child.

If you have been severely injured or lost a parent or partner as a result of medical negligence, or have been contacted by HSIB/HSSIB/CQC or NHS Resolution, you can talk to a solicitor, free and confidentially, for advice on how to respond or make a claim, by contacting us.