The Preventable, Continuing Toll of Kernicterus

24th November 2015 Clinical Negligence

Despite the upsetting circumstances with which I and my colleagues in JMW's Clinical Negligence department are often confronted, there are uplifting elements of the work which we do.

They include being able to resolve a claim on a client's behalf and help put in place compensation allowing them to cope with the effects of mistakes which were not their fault. However, I must confess that there are frustrations too.

Arguably the most significant is the fact that we're unable to turn back the clock and undo the sort of lasting physical damage which, in many cases, is entirely avoidable if proper practices had been adhered to.

For example, we have been asked to help a number of parents whose children were left profoundly affected by an condition called kernicterus.

I've just returned from the High Court in London having acted on behalf of one mother, Urrvashi Kothari-Tailor, whose son, Dilraj, suffers from cerebral palsy and is blind and unable to speak after midwives failed to take appropriate steps to measure his blood for bilirubin which can cause brain injury.

As a result, Dilraj developed kernicterus, a condition which afflicts one-in-100,000 children.

Central Manchester NHS Foundation Trust has now agreed to settle legal proceedings and begin the process of providing Dilraj with the specialist care which he will need for the rest of his life.

Two things come to mind when considering the case.

Firstly, Dilraj and his family could easily have been spared disability and distress if he had been given the right treatment at the right time.

Jaundice is a common condition in newborns and, whilst in rare cases the consequences can be serious, it is treatable.

Secondly, though, the risks posed by kernicterus could have been reduced if ministers and the NHS had acted on advice first provided as long ago as 2006 by the then Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson.

He recommended the education of medical staff and a screening programme - testing all newborn babies for jaundice - to avoid unnecessary illness and even death, describing kernicterus as "this preventable disease".

Yet, as I write, his calls have still not been met and children like Dilraj continue to live with the results of that inaction. Whilst NICE introduced guidelines in 2010 the experience of my clients has been that they have not been adhered to.

Ms Kothari-Tailor is now reminding health officials once again of the problems posed by kernicterus.

I wonder how many other parents will suffer as she has done before substantial steps are taken to save further children from becoming casualties of kernicterus.

My thoughts on the discussion above have featured across various news outlets, including an interview with BBC North West Tonight, BBC News Online, The Mirror and The Manchester Evening News.

To discuss this or similar issues please do get in contact.


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

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