Written by Sinead Connolly, Senior Solicitor
Unfortunately, we have all heard the heart-breaking stories of babies and children sent home from hospital, parents told there is nothing seriously wrong, only for that child to suffer a devastating and critical infection, suffering loss of limbs or life.
The difficulty in diagnosing children
Diagnosing children is difficult, the problem for medical professionals is that young children and babies cannot verbalise and tell us what is wrong, or where it hurts, and so an exact diagnosis is not easy. A lot of childhood illnesses have similar symptoms, high temperature, lethargy, reduced appetite, some illnesses are minor and some are extremely severe. For medics, this makes diagnosis much more difficult, a frightening additional risk and complication, is that young children can deteriorate rapidly and in some cases are symptom free until they are critically ill.
The importance of PEWS
There are tools to help clinicians diagnose serious infection or illness in children. Paediatric Early Warning Signs (PEWS) allows clinicians to identify those children who are at risk of rapid deterioration and serious illness. Checks on heartbeat, pulse, temperature amongst other factors are all taken together to provide a score, and a raised PEWS should alert clinicians that something may be wrong and that the child should be assessed within a certain time.
If you see it, say it
Sadly, not all sick children are diagnosed as quickly as they should be. Great Ormond Street, a leading children’s hospital advises parents, ‘if you see it, say it’. Studies show that parents or caregivers are the first people to spot a deterioration in a child’s health. Parents know their children better than anyone else, and if you think something is just not right, Great Ormond Street urge you to tell them.
Writing as a parent, I know how terrifying it can be when your child is sick and you are anxiously waiting for the doctor to tell you what is wrong and how they can fix it, when that advice is wrong and the result is devastating for you and your child, there may be a medical negligence claim.
“Parents know their children better than anyone else, and if you think something is just not right, Great Ormond Street urge you to tell them.”
Who can bring a claim for a child?
Children are minors, and as such are unable to bring a medical negligence claim for themselves. If a claim is to be brought for a child, a litigation friend must be appointed to represent them, often the parent but other categories of people such as appointed caregivers can do so too. A litigation friend must fulfill certain criteria, they must be able to competently act for child, take all steps and decisions for the benefit of the child and have no personal interest in the claim.
If an award of damages is granted for the child, approval by the court is needed. Not all medical negligence cases will require involvement of the court but in cases where a damages award is given for a minor, any settlement monies must be approved by a judge at a hearing. This hearing is called an infant approval hearing. Whist attending court can seem daunting, infant approval hearings are often informal and quick, and the purpose is simply for the court to ensure any award is fair and reasonable for the child.