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Olivia suffered catastrophic brain damage after contracting tuberculosis (TB) as a newborn from a patient on the postnatal ward, leading to meningitis. The hospital was aware that this patient had TB, and there was a risk to babies on the ward, yet did not ensure that they received adequate follow-up care and treatment. Olivia’s case was taken on by Eddie Jones, head of medical negligence at JMW, who secured a compensation settlement for Olivia worth approximately £5 million over the course of her lifetime to provide the specialist care, housing and aids that she requires.
TB patient on postnatal ward
Everything had progressed well with Olivia’s mum Emma’s pregnancy. Olivia was Emma’s first child and she was born normally and in a good condition a week after her due date.
Emma and Olivia were transferred to the postnatal ward where they were to share a bay with another woman who had recently given birth. The woman’s baby was being looked after in the hospital’s special care baby unit and she was very friendly towards Emma and Olivia. When she was not with her own baby she would often pick Olivia up and cuddle her.
After spending two days in hospital Emma and Olivia were transferred home. That same day the woman they had shared a bay with was diagnosed with TB. Staff at the hospital contacted a consultant specialising in public health for advice about how they should respond to this news, given that the woman had shared public spaces at the hospital.
The consultant recommended that mothers who had given birth around the same time be contacted and that their babies should be offered a test (known as a Heaf test) to screen them for TB.
Baby not screened
The advice from the public health consultant was not clearly communicated to the affected mothers, including Emma. Community midwives were tasked with this job and a leaflet was produced for them to give to the mothers on their visits. However the leaflet stated that although the trust was offering screening to the babies to reassure parents, screening was only really needed when someone lived with a TB patient.
The effect of this confusing communication was compounded by the fact that the risks that TB can pose to babies were not explained to Emma so she could make an informed decision. In addition there was no communication with Emma’s GP about Olivia’s contact with a TB patient and the recommendation that she be screened. The result of all this was that Olivia was not screened.
When Olivia was about five months old she became unwell, which her GP initially thought was a cold. However a few days later Olivia deteriorated and had to be admitted to hospital. At hospital Olivia’s condition became extremely serious and she was transferred to a specialist children’s hospital where she was diagnosed with TB meningitis. The membranes in the lining of her brain were severely inflamed and although treatment was started, the permanent brain damage she suffered could not be prevented.
Olivia was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy and is unable to walk. She also has developmental delay and will never be able to live independently, work for a living or have her own family. If she had been screened for TB in the first few weeks of her life she would have received treatment to cure her of the disease, preventing it from causing meningitis.
Meningitis compensation awarded
Olivia’s family was completely devastated and correctly linked Olivia’s illness to the woman she had been in contact with as a newborn. They were put in touch with JMW’s Eddie Jones who investigated the care provided to her and uncovered the appalling screening errors. Nothing could ever fully compensate Olivia for the terrible failings of the hospital but the compensation settlement of £5 million Eddie secured has at least provided her with the 24-hour care she requires, a house suitable for her disabilities and lifelong financial security.