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Legal action taken against NHS Direct after baby dies of meningitis

I recently read the sad story in the MEN about the death of baby Leo Radcliffe. It is always very upsetting whenever a baby or young child passes away but the circumstances of baby Leo’s death were particularly upsetting to read about.

The article from the MEN suggested that the now defunct NHS Direct telephone system failed baby Leo as, despite the urgency of the situation and the seriousness of his condition, the call was classed as non-urgent as his mum did not use the word “severe."

I have unfortunately dealt with a number of cases over the years where my clients have suffered serious injuries due to the failure by telephone call handlers within the NHS system to appreciate the severity of their condition.

I don’t believe this problem has been restricted to just NHS Direct. There are now many out-of-hours services and GP practices which use an initial telephone consultation to assess how a patient is and the severity of their condition before a decision is made about whether an appointment ought to be offered and the time scale for such an appointment.

Often, in the most serious of cases, timing is everything and the decision to offer an urgent appointment within one hour or a non-urgent appointment for the following day can result in a serious injury which could otherwise have been avoided as urgent treatment cannot be provided in time.

As an experienced clinical negligence solicitor, I have dealt with many cases where individuals have suffered serious, life-changing injuries, due to delays in providing urgent and essential treatment, such as surgery, by just a few hours.

I hope that lessons continue to be learned and telephone call handlers ensure that over-reliance is not placed on standard words but instead each patient call is properly and carefully assessed to prevent delays and the catastrophic injuries which can happen as a result.