Girl left with brain damage wins medical negligence appeal case

By Gillian Crotty

An Appeal Court has ruled that a 14-year-old girl was left with brain damage as a result of the negligence of a 25-year-old doctor at Harlow's Princess Alexandra Hospital, overturning a previous decision of a court that had rejected her clinical negligence claim.

The girl was aged 13 months when she was rushed to the hospital by ambulance in September 2003, when her mother noticed that her eyes were rolling in her head. The ambulance crew had also noticed this, however, on arrival at A&E the senior house officer did not ask why the child had been brought to the hospital. He examined the child and concluded that she was "alert, active and well", and possibly had a minor upper respiratory tract infection. The girl was discharged but she was later brought back to the hospital the same day when her condition got significantly worse. She was referred to a paediatrician and received a treatment of antibiotics.

The delay in treatment is said to have prevented the spread of meningitis, and the girl now has learning difficulties and is profoundly deaf. Lord Justice Jackson described the protocol of taking patient history as a "basic skill which hospital doctors at all levels are expected to possess". He did take great care to emphasise that "even good and conscientious doctors, from time to time, fall short" and hoped that young doctors would not "lose heart" or "abandon medical practice" because of cases such as these. However, he ultimately ruled that breach of duty and negligence was established and that the girl should receive medical negligence compensation.

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