Article by James Gillespie Published: 10.07.2016
A CHILD who was 30 minutes from death following alleged blunders by two out-of-hours GPs has won a £15m settlement after being left severely disabled.
Jacob Stratton, now aged nine, was six weeks old when he fell ill with meningitis. Despite his parents making a number of calls to the out-of-hours GP service, they said doctors did not follow standard procedure and failed to spot the life-threatening condition.
By the time Jacob reached hospital it was too late to prevent extensive brain damage. “We were told when he was admitted to hospital that he had 30 minutes to live,” said Jacob’s father David. “It was terrifying.” The settlement is believed to be one of the largest involving out-of-hours doctors.
Daniel Evans and Ruth Smith, the two Kent GPs involved, were represented by medical defence unions which agreed the financial settlement in the High Court last week. Smith disputed the parents’ account and denied liability but Evans admitted it.
Jacob was born on February 15, 2007 and fell ill on Saturday, March 31 with a high temperature accompanied by seizures. Despite guidelines saying that babies running high temperatures should be examined, doctors did not make a visit.
The parents said that during a telephone call Smith attributed the fit to “temper” and advised a dose of Calpol medicine. Smith disputed the account and claimed the baby’s temperature had dropped when she called.
She also claimed that she had offered a home visit at night but the parents had turned her down. The parents denied this.
The next day the parents took Jacob to an out-of-hours walk-in centre in Folkestone, where they were seen by Evans. After failing to take the baby’s temperature he sent them home, saying that Jacob would recover.
On the Sunday, Jacob was still ill and when his mother Mandy rang the out-of-hours service, she spoke again to Evans, who said: “My dear, if you are that unhappy, take him to the A&E.”
“I found him incredibly patronising,” Mandy said. They took Jacob to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, where he was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis. They were warned he was close to death.
After his condition stabilised he was transferred to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London where he spent four days on life support. “We were told they were going to take him off the life support machine but they did not know what capability he had,” David said. “If he had lost his reflux — the ability to cough and clear his throat — then he would die.”
“We left the hospital and had a very odd meal across the road. When we came back, he was alive. But our lovely little lad had changed into this very stiff being.”
A few days later Jacob had an MRI scan. “They told me he had extensive brain damage,” Mandy said, breaking down in tears as she recalled the moment. David added: “I am normally quite stoic, but at that point, I just hit the floor.”
Jacob now suffers from cerebral palsy and quadriplegia, is confined to a wheelchair, and needs constant care.
He is learning to communicate with an “eye gaze” computer, attends a special needs school and is “very expressive, he smiles a lot and charms people,” Mandy said.
At the time, out-of-hours GPs had been issued with instructions that stated: “It is potentially unsafe . . . to provide advice only to the parents of babies and young children under 12 months who may have a high temperature. Always offer to examine all such young children (or refer for a hospital opinion).”
David added: “We trusted the doctors — we spoke to two different GPs. This settlement is not compensation for Jacob. It is enablement, to allow him to live as well as he can.”
The money, much of which will be released periodically during Jacob’s life, will be held and administered by a court-appointed official.
Nick Fairweather, a clinical negligence lawyer in Whitstable, Kent, who represented the family, said: “If a small amount of the sums that have to be paid in damages were re–directed to frontline services, it would save huge sums, improve healthcare immeasurably and avoid the wholly unnecessary suffering that is caused to patients such as Jacob and their families.”
The MDDUS medical defence union, which represented Evans, and the Medical Defence Union, for Smith, declined to comment.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Sunday Times.