Most people would agree that the recent case of a baby being left permanently disabled and brain-damaged after a student midwife failed to recognise the seriousness of his jaundice condition, is not only a heart-breaking story, but a clear example of clinical negligence, too. Yet the families and loved ones of victims are often so consumed with their grief after such cases that they do not stop to consider whether they have a rightful claim to medical negligence compensation.
Fortunately the parents of Vasili Kalisperas, from Malvern, who was born at Worcestershire Royal Hospital on May 18, have ensured the right steps are being taken to try to ensure the mistakes which happened and caused lifelong harm to their son will not be repeated.
Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust has admitted liability, saying it was deeply sorry for the mistakes which left Vasili with cerebral palsy, virtually blind, deaf and with kernicterus, a form of brain damage. Mr Kalisperas commented, “He was born healthy and the birth went smoothly so we didn’t expect anything would go wrong when we got back home… We can’t reverse what has happened to our son, so all we can do is try and stop it happening to others and we will campaign the best we can.”
Mr Kalisperas raised concerns about Vasili’s jaundice when he was visited, aged just a day old, by the community midwife who, unbeknown to the family, was a student. She did not follow guidelines from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) which state newborn babies with jaundice should be tested and referred for hospital treatment if their condition is severe. The student said she could return to check on Vasili on Monday.
However, the following day he was more severely jaundiced and when he passed urine that was dark orange, the parents called a different midwife who visited and advised the couple to take Vasili back to Worcestershire Royal. Once there, he was given phototherapy to address his soaring levels of bilirubin – the substance that causes the yellowing of the skin and eyes. His condition deteriorated so rapidly he stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated by doctors. He was given a blood transfusion but it was too late to prevent him from suffering devastating brain damage.
But Mr Kalisperas said the family held no anger towards the student who missed the severity of their son’s condition. “I can’t blame the student but I do blame the system that allowed her out on her own,” he said.
But medical negligence can be fatal, too. Take the case of Michelle Jannetta who was described as depressed and rushed to the A&E department at Milton Keynes Hospital, Bucks on March 7, following an overdose of Tramadol – she later died after medical staff mixed up her blood samples with those of another patient. It was reported that the hospital staff thought she was ‘faking’ a coma. A coroner is now demanding answers from the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and Michelle’s family are pursuing a claim for clinical negligence compensation.
An inquest at Milton Keynes heard that Michelle was put on her back to sleep – obstructing her breathing and contributing to her death. Nurses also admitted to hearing her snoring – a known symptom of a Tramadol overdose – but she was given no antidote and died the day after being admitted.
Tom Osborne, the coroner for Milton Keynes, voiced concerns that unqualified staff could still be putting patients at risk all over the country. He said he would be writing to both the Hospital Trust and Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt. “There was a failure to undertake and report on her regular observations and a failure to recognise her deteriorating condition or the seriousness of her situation,” he said. “That resulted in a lost opportunity to render further effective treatment before she went into respiratory arrest caused by obstruction of her airway.”
Michelle’s sister Nicola Rose said: “We adored her and will never forget her… She should have been monitored closely … She was a frequent visitor to the hospital and we think they definitely disregarded her visits as if she was an inconvenience to them.”
It is hard enough when a loved one passes away. Even more upsetting is when the cause of death is due to clinical negligence. Claiming for compensation may be the last thing on your mind, but if alternative action could have been taken, you may well have a valid medical negligence claim. Some of circumstances where clinical negligence can occur include:
1. Error or incompetence during surgery, leading to organ failure or brain damage
2. Failure to administer correct medication or anaesthetic
3. Failure or delay in detecting infection, despite symptoms
4. Poor standards of hygiene or safety in a hospital
5. Surgical error leading to bleeding
6. Inadequate care of a mother or child in distress during labour
Medical mistakes like this cause great distress – and claiming for clinical negligence in cases like these can help medical standards to improve. Gathering evidence may be the last thing on your mind but it is a good idea to act fast as some claims will not stand up in court if there has been a lengthy delay.