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Case Study

Delays in treating maternal postnatal infection at Lewisham Hospital result in septicaemia and mobility problems

Helen Thompson settled a claim on behalf of Ms O who suffered septicaemia, multi-organ failure, damage to joints and mobility problems following delays in treatment of an infection following delivery of her second child at Lewisham Hospital.

After an uncomplicated pregnancy Ms O gave birth to her daughter in June 2011. An instrumental delivery was needed, which resulted in a torn cervix. Her doctor subsequently repaired the tear, inserted a vaginal pack and directed that Ms O be given antibiotics to prevent infection. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

Over the next three days in hospital, Ms O began to suffer severe pain in her back, waist and buttocks and was unable to walk. Staff incorrectly attributed her symptoms to sciatica despite her not having suffered this condition previously. Ms O was then sent home despite being unable to walk because of the pain and not being able to care properly for her new baby.

Back home, her condition deteriorated. Despite review by community midwives, Ms O was not referred to her GP or to hospital. Her condition got even worse and she began to feel drowsy, her legs and hands swelled and she was very unwell.

Ten days after giving birth, Ms O was readmitted to hospital where she was diagnosed with sepsis and renal failure. She was transferred to ITU where she remained severely unwell with multi-organ failure. Blood cultures grew Group B Streptococcal bacteria – a bacteria commonly found in the vaginal tract which had passed into her blood stream and caused the infection.

Ms O remained in hospital for more than three months, during which time there were further delays in identifying the source of the infection and the abscesses which had formed in her pelvic muscles. As a result, there were yet further delays in administering appropriate treatment.

After she was discharged from hospital, Ms O continued to have limb pain and difficulties moving. She could not go back to work as a cleaner and required care and help from friends to manage her personal care and look after her two young children. She was diagnosed as having suffered a reactive arthritis due to the severe infection, which had caused the pain, swelling and stiffness in her limbs and joints, particularly her left knee.

X-rays identified that the reactive arthritis had caused a rapid deterioration in her knee joint, resulting in severe osteoarthritis for which, at a young age, she would need a total knee replacement. Due to the reactive arthritis, deterioration of her knee joint and mobility problems Ms O gained a significant amount of weight in a short time which further impacted upon her musculoskeletal pain.

Helen Thompson instructed experts to comment on the care that Ms O received. They were critical of the failure to give antibiotics after repair of the cervical tear, the delays in suspecting an infection and commencing antibiotics and the decision to discharge Ms O from hospital in light of her condition.

The Trust made partial admissions of breach of duty with regards to the failure to administer antibiotics and discharging Ms O. It also acknowledged that with timely antibiotics the infection would not have become so severe. However, the Trust defended the claim on the basis that the reactive arthritis, acceleration of osteoarthritis in the left knee joint, the significant weight gain and mobility problems would have occurred in any event and that even with appropriate care, Ms O would have been in the same position. The Defendant's case was strongly contested by the experts instructed by Helen.

Eventually, and only once the claim reached two months before Trial, Helen was able to negotiate a settlement of £750,000 for Ms O.

Helen said: "This was a very difficult case involving a lot of complex medical arguments. My job was to reach a settlement to enable my client to purchase a property suitable for her physical disability and mobility needs, to provide a secure future and a better quality of life for her and her children."

Image credit: By Gilo1969 [CC BY-SA 3.0  ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons

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