Why giving more power to families with Martha’s Law is so crucial

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Why giving more power to families with Martha’s Law is so crucial

Martha Mills was a young child aged 13 with her whole life ahead of her when she was injured following a fall from her bike. Consequently, she suffered damage to her pancreas and was admitted to Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Her mother Merope, a journalist at the Guardian newspaper highlights the series of events that followed, that lead to her tragic death, in an incredibly moving article ‘We had such trust, we feel such fools’: how shocking hospital mistakes led to our daughter’s death | Family | The Guardian

She explains that whilst an inpatient she and her husband expressed concerns about Martha’s deteriorating condition on a number of occasions, yet these were not acted upon. Martha began to develop a rash and her mother specifically raised concerns as to whether she had contracted sepsis and was worried that she could go into septic shock over a bank holiday weekend. Her worries were dismissed, and Martha’s condition deteriorated, resulting in her untimely death.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition requiring prompt and effective treatment and it’s vitally important to know the warning signs for this condition. The UK Sepsis Trust has done crucial work to raise awareness of this condition and the warning signs and symptoms to be aware of in both children and adults; known as the Sepsis 6 In children the following warning signs can be indicative of sepsis being present:

  1. The child Is breathing very fast
  2. They have a ‘fit’ or convulsion
  3. They look mottled, bluish, or pale
  4. They have a rash that does not fade when you press it
  5. They are very lethargic or difficult to wake
  6. They feel abnormally cold to touch

In Martha’s case however, her parents had identified concerns and raised them with the clinicians. So, what went wrong? The answer is they weren’t listened to. At an inquest, HM Coroner ruled that Martha would most probably have survived if those treating her had noted the warning signs and acted accordingly. It’s a heart-breaking conclusion and one her family will no doubt replay in their thoughts – “what if”

Her family are now calling on the government to enact “Martha’s Law”, namely to enshrine the right to request a second opinion from a more senior doctor in the hospital in the event of a suspected deterioration or serious concern. Such a right was adopted in Queensland, named Ryan’s Law, following a child who again tragically died from undiagnosed/untreated streptococcal infection leading to toxic shock.

When medical treatment goes wrong, it is not always due to fault, but when illness strikes, it’s vital to question whether sepsis could be present, , identify any signs, and act fast, to give the best chance of survival to those suffering from this, and may other, terrible conditions. I meet and speak to many consultants in accident and emergency, general physicians etc as part of my role as a specialist medical negligence solicitor at JMW , and I cannot emphasise enough how many times they state “you have to listen to your patient”, or “you have to take a detailed history” in order to get the full picture and consider a sufficient range of differential diagnoses. However, this frequently does not happen, as Martha’s family, and many of the families we represent in medical negligence cases at JMW, have learned.

The Secretary of State of Health advised the House of Commons that he has asked colleagues to “explore the idea” of Martha’s Law. If adopted it is hoped that cases like Martha’s will be avoided and clinicians will reassess matters after taking on board the concerns expressed by a parent, guardian, or carer.

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