Pregnancy and sepsis – how negligence can lead to harm

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Poppy story was recently in the newspaper.  At 34 weeks pregnant, she had a really bad pain in her side.  Doctors in A&E diagnosed a compressed lung.  They did not foresee great harm and expected it to resolve following delivery.   Poppy’s pain got worse. It did not get better after her baby was born.  Still, she thought she just needed to recover after the birth.

Nine days later she suffered a seizure at home.  She was admitted to hospital as an emergency, diagnosed with pneumonia and then septic shock.  An MRI scan found a large kidney abscess and significant infection.

Poppy was treated for sepsis and recovered physically. However, the experience has affected her mental health.

At Enable Law we have seen two other recent cases where doctors missed a health condition in pregnancy. Both led to sepsis and serious harm.

In the first, doctors failed to diagnose a kidney stone. The mother’s deteriorating health was attributed to her pregnancy.  She became seriously ill, was diagnosed with sepsis and admitted to intensive care.  Because doctors thought the cause was her baby, rather than her kidney, she was advised to deliver early.  Her baby was born prematurely but the mother’s health didn’t improve.  A few days later she was correctly diagnosis and treated.

She has recovered fully but her baby suffered brain damage because sepsis was not recognised and treated quickly, and because the baby was premature.

In the second case, a mother had upper abdominal pain during pregnancy.  This was attributed to the pregnancy and she was not treated.  Her pain continued after the birth.  She attended A&E but was discharged.  She then went back and was admitted.  She became more and more ill from sepsis and sadly died. It was found that she infection from pancreatic necrosis.

These cases show two common themes:

  1. The failure of medical staff to look for other health conditions when a woman is pregnant, ill and in pain;
  2. The serious harm caused when sepsis is not recognised and treated in time.

Poppy’s story is a reminder that Sepsis can affect anyone at any time. The UK Sepsis Trust warns that anyone who is worried that they have an infection, that something doesn’t feel right or is getting worse rather than better should look out for the following signs:

S for slurred speech or confusion

E for extreme pain in the muscles or joints

P for passing no urine in a day

S for severe breathlessness

I for “it feels like I’m going to die”

S for skin that’s mottled, discoloured or very pale

UK Sepsis Trust advise that if you have infection and any one of these six, you should go straight to A&E.

If you are pregnant and something doesn’t feel right always go back and press for further investigations.

Jackie Linehan is a medical negligence lawyer with a specialism in serious birth related injuries including death and brain damage.

Enable Law are specialists in sepsis and support UK Sepsis Trust in their work.

If you have experienced a similar problem get in touch with us today.

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