Catalogue of basic errors in treatment of jaundice cause brain damage

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Catalogue of basic errors in treatment of jaundice cause brain damage

‘Rafid’ suffered devastating and avoidable kernicterus brain damage after two community midwives failed to organise a blood test when developed jaundice three days after his birth. Angharad Hughes, a partner specialising in kernicterus claims at JMW challenged this poor care and obtained a full admission of negligence from the hospital trust. Angharad then negotiated an approximately £18 million compensation settlement to cover the cost of the lifetime of specialist care Rafid will require. 

Born healthy 

Rafid was born completely healthy but was slightly premature. His older brother had also been treated for jaundice as baby and both these factors put Rafid at increased risk of developing severe jaundice and were known to the community midwives who attended to him. 

The first midwife to visit Rafid at home following his discharge from hospital noticed he was jaundiced yet contrary to the maternity hospital’s own guidelines, she failed to promptly arrange a blood test to check if he needed treatment. If she had it would have revealed that the level of bilirubin, the substance that causes the yellowing of the skin and eyeballs, were extremely high and there was a significant risk of brain damage without urgent treatment. 

Hospital admission 

The following morning, after Rafid had been very unsettled throughout the night, his parents found him to be very yellow in colour and that the jaundice had worsened from the previous day.

Concerned, they telephoned the community midwives and received a visit from two different midwives, who took a blood test. Rafid’s parents were told they would be contacted later for the results but it was probably nothing to worry about and lots of babies get jaundice. Rafid should have been referred straight to hospital for more urgent tests and treatment. However his parents were not contacted until 1pm that afternoon, when they were told his bilirubin levels were high and he needed to be seen at hospital. They were told to make their way there but at no point was it conveyed to them that this was an emergency situation. 

About two hours later Rafid and his parents arrived at hospital and were seen by doctors who wrongly interpreted his blood test results and failed to realise he required an urgent blood transfusion. They then failed to arrange a transfer to a hospital where this could be carried out, whilst treatment with phototherapy was also delayed as staff were unable to locate all the equipment and use it correctly. 

I gathered evidence from leading independent medical experts who believed that Rafid’s injury was completely preventable had community midwives ensured he was tested promptly and referred to hospital, and had hospital staff started treatment urgently. Unfortunately there was a catalogue of basic and extremely concerning errors which included a lack of knowledge about jaundice, absence of vital equipment and staff not being able to operate a basic phototherapy unit. Lessons need to be learned from this case, however I am pleased that Rafid and his family will have access to some excellent care to ensure he has the best possible quality of life.

Angharad Hughes, Rafid's solicitor

Successful kernicterus case

JMW kernicterus specialist solicitor Angharad Hughes investigated Rafid’s case and found that the unacceptable delays in testing Rafid and beginning urgent treatment caused his brain damage.

Appropriate phototherapy was not established until 8.30pm on the day of his hospital admission and Rafid was transferred to a specialist children’s hospital in the early hours of the following morning for a blood transfusion.

However by now it was too late to prevent severe kernicterus brain damage. Rafid will require specialist 24-hour care for the rest of his life, will never be able to live independently or work for a living, and will require a host of equipment and therapies. 

After building a strong case for Rafid, Angharad was successful in obtaining a full admission from the hospital trust that the care was inadequate and a compensation settlement totalling approximately £18 million to cover the cost of his care. 

Get in touch

JMW Solicitors LLP is a leading Manchester law firm and offers a broad range of legal services to both commercial and private clients. To speak to someone please use our online enquiry form or call us on 0345 872 6666.

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