JMW meningitis case is example of why heeding of parental concerns is so vital

5th April 2017 Clinical Negligence

In the medical negligence team at JMW, we talk a lot about the need for medical professionals to heed parental concerns when it comes to a sick child. Children, particularly the very young, are unable to communicate their symptoms and severity of their illness effectively. They rely on adults to do this for them and in our experience parents are very astute at recognising when something is seriously wrong.

In some of the catastrophic injury cases we have successfully settled, doctors, nurses and midwives have been too quick to assume a child has one of the many common, non-serious illnesses they frequently suffer from without doing adequate checks. Moreover they have dismissed the parents' fears, even when they have sought medical help on several occasions, a key indicator of a deteriorating child.

The consequences can be extremely tragic. Entire families are completely devastated when a child suffers catastrophic injuries and parents are left to pick up the pieces. This sometimes includes coping with the lifelong care needs of an extremely disabled child.

An example of this is a case JMW settled for £4.6 million for a nine-year-old boy with very severe brain damage due to failures by two doctors and a paramedic. These medical professionals saw him when he became poorly when he was a 6 week old baby, but failed to refer him to hospital, when he had meningitis (read more about this case here). His parents sought help three times in a 12-hour period but a catalogue of errors meant he was not referred to hospital in time to treat him successfully. His brain damage is of the utmost severity and tragically he is not expected to live beyond his teens. Although he will now have access to the care he needs to be as comfortable as possible, and to help relieve the burden of care on his mother, nothing can turn back the clock.

Meningitis is a severe illness where the initial symptoms can be quite vague and mimic those of more common infant ailments. However it progresses rapidly. That's why parental concerns, as well as very thorough checks, are so important when deciding whether children who are unwell should be referred to and admitted to hospital.

These days parents are very keenly aware of meningitis and the risk it poses. However with this, and similar illnesses such as sepsis, they need medical professionals to also be on high alert and to heed their concerns. The responsibility should not be on the parents to be pushy with the medical professionals whom they trust to know best.


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Eddie Jones is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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