What is a Meningitis claim
Clinical negligence claims involving meningitis usually arise because a child or adult has contracted meningitis, and there has been a delay in recognising the infection and starting treatment. Occasionally they may arise because the infection has been correctly identified but the treatment given is the wrong one (see below for more about how meningitis can be treated). There are certain types of meningitis that affect children more than adults and it is more common to see claims brought on behalf of children who have caught meningitis, than adults. They are usually complex cases, with the claimant having suffered life changing injuries, and because of that complexity need lawyers acting who have specialist expertise in meningitis claims.
What are the issues that will need to be investigated
To succeed in arguing the wrong treatment was given you have to understand how the patient contracted the infection, know what kind of infection it was, because that dictates what kind of treatment they needed, and know what was the timescale during which the infection developed, and the point where treatment could no longer make a difference to the patient.
Why bring a claim
If you or a loved one have suffered from meningitis and treatment has not stopped the infection, then it's likely that a life changing injury has been sustained. Often the effects of missed meningitis are catastrophic affecting the whole family. The family of someone who has suffered serious injury as a result of delay in diagnosis of meningitis will be left trying to get help with care needs and manage reduced finances if they have had had to give up work to care for the injured child or adult.
Our medical negligence team has successfully concluded a huge range of meningitis cases and continue to act on behalf of many patients who have suffered injuries because of missed diagnosis and treatment of meningitis. The types of injuries we see people suffering include brain injury, amputation of limbs due to the spread of septicaemia, and bilateral hearing loss. If it is possible to obtain compensation the damages recovered can help provide for rehabilitation, care, support, treatment, therapies and in the case of children, appropriate education, for the rest of the claimant's life.
Bringing a claim can make a huge difference to people's lives because if a claim is successful the damages you recover can protect the patient for the rest of their life and pay for treatment and equipment and education and care services that the patient would not otherwise have any chance of receiving.
When to bring a claim
Ideally you should instruct a lawyer as soon as possible after you have suffered an injury as the general rule is that claims can only be brought within 3 years of the injury. However different rules apply to children and people who do not have capacity to make decisions about their finances and legal affairs. We know that in the aftermath of a serious injury there is so much to take on board and deal with that contacting a lawyer is the last thing that you want to deal with. Also claimants sometimes do not realise at the time that the meningitis is suffered that different treatment could have avoided the injuries, and so there is a long time delay in instructing us. However, if the claimant is still a minor or does not have capacity to make their own decision about their financial affairs, then generally the claim can still be pursued.
What funding is available
Where the injury to the child has occurred in the first 8 weeks of their life we can obtain Legal Aid funding. However for all other cases, Legal Aid is not available and No Win No Fee funding may be available.
For further information, or if you believe you have a meningitis claim for yourself, or a child or an adult you are responsible for you, please contact our medical negligence team. All enquiries are completely free of charge and we will investigate all funding options for you including Legal Aid and No Win No Fee.
Call Freephone 0800 358 3848
If you think you, or a member of your family has suffered due to the negligence of medical professionals, our specialist team of solicitors can help you recover the compensation that you and your family deserve, Call us today or start your claim online and we will call you back.
What are Meningitis and Septicaemia?
Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. Septicaemia is the blood poisoning form of the disease. There are two types of infection that cause Meningitis - bacterial or viral. Of the two types, a bacterial infection is more serious, and if untreated will causes serious injury or death. Generally viral infections are much milder and not life threatening. Although both adults and children can get meningitis, generally children and babies are at much higher risk of getting it.
Bacterial infections act on the nerves and the brain. The Bacteria are often of the Streptococcus family, and spread through close contact. The infection can be picked up in the community, or from another person. For instance, in the case of babies it can be transferred from the mother to the baby at the time of delivery. Often the transmission of the infection cannot be prevented even with vaccination, and the key to treating it is to recognise the signs of meningitis developing, and to give the right antibiotic, as quickly as possible.
This is when an infection causes blood poisoning causing a high fever, chills, vomiting and/or rapid heart rate and/or rapid breathing, cold hands or feet, pale or mottled skin, red spots on the skin, drowsiness and little or no urine output. Septicaemia must be treated in hospital with antibiotics, fluids on a drip, oxygen and sometimes replacement blood products. Septicaemia can cause serious damage to major organs such as the brains, lungs and kidneys and also lead to tissue damage to limbs, and if that damage cannot be reversed the limb may have to be amputated. In the worst case scenarios children and adults die from septicaemia.
Because bacterial meningitis and septicaemia are conditions that are extremely dangerous they have to be treated urgently in hospital with antibiotics. Delays in treatment, even of 2 hours, can result in a much poorer outcome, including permanent injury or death. Different drugs work with different types of meningitis and so it is always important that if a doctor thinks a child or an adult may have meningitis that they immediately start treatment with what is called a broad spectrum antibiotic, in other words antibiotics that work with a broad range of strains of bacterial meningococci, whilst they isolate the type of meningitis through further tests.
All hospitals should have guidelines in place providing guidance as to how to treat bacterial meningitis. For instance, NICE published guidelines as to how to manage fever in the under 5s in May 2013 and that guideline is under review at the moment to make sure it remains the best guidance.
Bacteria that cause meningitis:
The bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause septicaemia (blood poisoning). The main bacteria that can cause meningitis in the claims we bring are:
- Meningococcal meningitis (Neisseria meningitides) where the bacteria infects the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord and cause blood poisoning which is known as meningococcal septicaemia.
- Pneumococcal meningitis (Streptococcus pneumoniae) which can lead to the patient developing septicaemia.
- Group B streptococcal bacteria which is the most common cause of meningitis in new born babies and this kind of meningitis usually infects the baby when it is transferred from the mother's vagina or bowel during birth. It is therefore very important that if new-borns show any signs of meningitis those signs are picked up and acted on immediately. For instance a mum may notice that her new-born is acting out of character, is maybe making mewling or grunting noises, demonstrating stiffness in the neck or of the limbs and not wanting to feed.
Unlike bacterial meningitis viral meningitis is very common and it is most frequently seen in children under 5 because their youth means that their body defence is not fully developed and their immune systems cannot fight off the infection. Viral meningitis is caused by viruses spread through coughing, sneezing and poor hygiene and are most likely picked up in the community. Children with viral meningitis are likely to have symptoms of vomiting, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights, headache, fever, diarrhoea and aching joints and muscle pain. They can get it from having had mumps or measles or from even from cold sores. Unlike bacterial meningitis it is often not possible to isolate the virus that caused the infection and so it has to be treated broadly. Generally, it is not going to cause extensive brain damage, trigger the development of septicaemia and/or lead to the loss of limbs.
Clinicians in the UK are well used to treating meningitis. There was see change in the approach to treatment of meningitis in around 1991 and in today's age children and adults should not have a delay in diagnosis of the condition except in the rarest of circumstances and they should receive medication early enough to prevent injury or to ameliorate the extent of the injuries they could suffer.
If you believe you have a meningitis claim, please contact our team of medical negligence solicitors for free No Win No Fee advice.
Contact us on freephone 0800 358 3848
Or start your claim online.
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