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Meningitis Medical Negligence Claim

Meningitis Medical Negligence Claim

Bacterial meningitis is a life-threatening illness that must be diagnosed and treated quickly if the patient is going to make a recovery.

It is therefore essential that medical practitioners approach any patient who is displaying meningitis symptoms with caution. This will ensure that if the patient does indeed have meningitis, treatment will not be delayed – something which could ultimately save the patient's life.

If you or your loved one has been harmed because medical practitioners failed to suspect, diagnose or treat meningitis, you could be entitled to take legal action. Please get in touch with us to find out more about meningitis compensation claims.

Meningitis negligence claim

Meningitis claims are usually made against a GP, a hospital or both. This is because in most cases the patient has sought help from their GP or gone straight to A&E, but the signs of meningitis have not been acted upon. We look at each scenario in greater detail.

Meningitis claim against a GP

Someone with meningitis may first decide to attend their GP. When a patient presents to a GP with signs and symptoms that strongly indicate meningitis, the GP must take a number of steps.

Firstly, the patient's history of symptoms should be written down in full. The symptoms of meningitis include a fever, stiff neck, headache with pressure inside the head, vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion and a rash on the body.

Secondly, the GP should examine the patient's neck to check for stiffness. Other tests and examinations should also take place, such as a temperature check, and an assessment of the rash (if present).

Next, the GP should administer the patient with penicillin, or an alternative antibiotic if penicillin is not appropriate because of an allergy. The patient should then be told to proceed straight to hospital. If the patient is too ill, an ambulance should be summoned.

A GP will be negligent if a patient with characteristic meningitis symptoms is not provided with this standard of care. If a diagnosis of meningitis cannot be excluded, or if meningitis should be strongly suspected from the symptoms, the patient must be given penicillin and referred to hospital.

An early referral to hospital will mean that a diagnosis of meningitis can be confirmed or ruled out with a lumbar puncture test. It will also ensure that the patient is started on antibiotic treatment immediately, giving him/her the best chance of survival. If caught in the early stages of meningococcal disease, the patient can make a complete recovery without suffering lasting damage.

Sadly this standard of care is not always achieved because a GP negligently fails to recognise the patient's symptoms, which would have led the GP to a very high suspicion of meningitis. This might occur because the GP is not sufficiently aware of the symptoms of meningitis to enquire about the tell-tale signs – including pressure headache, rash and sensitivity to light.

Consequently the patient is given wrong diagnosis, such as flu or respiratory disease, and told to return home. This is very dangerous, as the patient can become critically unwell within hours. The patient may not recover from this, or may be left with permanent damage, including hearing and sight loss. This could have been avoided, had the GP referred the patient to hospital at an earlier stage.

Meningitis claim against a hospital

A patient with meningitis may arrive at A&E of their own accord, or may have been referred to hospital by their GP. Either way, hospital doctors must take a similar course of action to a GP.

Namely, the patient's symptoms should be elicited, with close attention paid to the rash, stiff neck and temperature. The patient should be immediately admitted and started on antibiotic treatment. Hospitals have the facilities to confirm a diagnosis of meningitis through a lumbar puncture, CT scan and blood test. All these tests must be achieved without delay due to the fast-moving nature of meningitis.

If this care is provided quickly enough, it is possible to kill the bacterial load and prevent injury. This is especially true if the patient is neurologically intact when he/she reaches hospital, meaning there are no symptoms of seizure, altered consciousness or sight/hearing loss.

As with GPs, there are times when hospital doctors overlook or dismiss the possibility of meningococcal disease. As discussed above, this can lead to fatal complications or life-changing disabilities.

One such case was highlighted in the press recently. An 18 year old Team GB triathlete attended hospital with the symptoms of meningitis in August 2015, but she was discharged by a junior doctor with a diagnosis of gastroenteritis. She died the following day. A report in to her death concluded doctors had failed to “identify key observations” that would have led to the patient's admission and treatment for meningitis.

Tuberculosis meningitis

It is worth noting that there are other forms of meningitis, including viral meningitis and tuberculous meningitis (TBM).

TBM requires anti-TB treatment which, if administered in time, can result in a complete recovery. However, the condition is rare in the UK and may be misinterpreted as a viral infection.

TBM normally occurs when the patient acquires a TB infection somewhere outside of the UK, but the condition lays dormant until it is awoken by something such as pregnancy or concurrent steroid treatment.

TBM develops much more slowly than other meningitis pathogens, and the early symptoms may be non-specific. Often the first symptom is a persistent headache, and only later do signs of meningeal inflammation become apparent, with stiff neck, drowsiness and vomiting. The vomiting is caused by a rise in intracranial pressure.

There are different stages of TBM. Patients with no clouding of consciousness or neurological signs are in stage 1. When altered consciousness occurs, the patient has progressed to stage 2. A patient who is nearly unconscious or in a coma has progressed to stage 3.

The earlier treatment is started for TBM, the better the likely outcome. It has been proven that treatment is most effective before neurological symptoms arise, meaning in stage 1 of the condition. A study in Hong Kong revealed that 98% of patients treated at stage 1 of the infection made a complete recovery, compared to just 52% of patients with stage 3 TBM.

Therefore medical practitioners must spot the signs that indicate TBM, including persistent headache, vomiting and fever. Tests should be carried out as part of the diagnostic process. Lymphocytic pleocytosis, high protein, low glucose and the absence of other bacteria all point towards TBM. Such test results mandate the immediate administration of anti-TB chemotherapy and intracranial decompression.

A failure to achieve this standard of care within a reasonable amount of time will lead to severe brain damage, caused by bacteria infection and hydrocephalus.

Speak to a solicitor

If you suspect you are entitled to pursue a claim for medical negligence, please get in touch with us today. The claim may relate to you or your loved one. Either way, we are happy to help.

Contact us today

To find out more about making a medical negligence claim, please get in touch with our team today. We will advise whether or not you are eligible to pursue a claim for compensation. If so, we can help you get the financial redress you deserve.

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