Law Firm Calls For Increased Awareness Of Deadly Meningitis Disease

Devon Meningitis Victim Left Profoundly Deaf By Illness Supports Awareness Campaign

20.09.2011

Medical law specialists from Irwin Mitchell solicitors are backing a national campaign to raise awareness of the deadly disease, meningitis.

The law firm is supporting National Meningitis Awareness Week, which runs from Monday 19th to 25th September and is being organised by the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Ahead of this year’s awareness week, Natalie Jones, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office, said: “Cases of meningitis and septicaemia tend to peak during the Autumn and Winter months so the MRF’s awareness week is a particularly important time to remind people about the devastating effects of this disease.

“Sadly, our Medical Law team handles a number of cases where meningitis has not been diagnosed or treated quickly enough, resulting in severe disability or in the most tragic of cases, the death of a patient.

“The symptoms of meningitis are not always easy to spot. Tell-tale signs - such as a rash which does not disappear when a glass is pressed against the skin (the tumbler test,) a stiff neck, headache, ear-ache, temperature, lethargy and an aversion to bright lights - are all well documented, but it is important to remember that not all symptoms are always present in each case of meningitis.

“It is vital that these symptoms are not overlooked. In most cases early intervention can quite literally save a life. However, we continue to deal with families who did not receive prompt treatment, leading to catastrophic and tragic consequences.”

Peter Lovell Case Study:

Peter Lovell, from Sidmouth in Devon, has been left profoundly deaf after developing life threatening meningitis in September 2008.

Despite suffering an agonising headache, feeling confused and disoriented and having blood coming from his ear, an out of hours locum GP did not offer to visit him at home or refer him to A&E, but merely assessed him over the telephone.

Instead, Peter was advised to take painkillers, rest and make an appointment with his GP the following morning. 

Eighteen hours later, Peter’s condition had deteriorated alarmingly. After vomiting and collapsing at home, he was rushed by ambulance to the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital. Doctors there immediately suspected pneumococcal meningitis and Peter was left fighting for his life on a ventilator in intensive care.

Peter’s recovery has been a long and slow process. Initially when he left hospital after two weeks he was reliant upon a wheelchair and could barely walk due to severe problems with his balance.

Now, almost two years on, Peter, now aged 45, who is married with three children, still suffers ongoing problems as a result of contracting meningitis. He is profoundly deaf and although a cochlear implant initially restored part of his hearing, this has since failed. He also suffers the added misery of tinnitus which he likens to the noise of a ‘jet engine in his head.’

Peter’s wife, Judy commented: “Like many people, we had always thought that meningitis was an illness which affected babies or young people. When Peter was so ill the thought never crossed our mind that it could be meningitis and when the out of hours GP suggested it was simply an ear infection we never thought to question things.

“Since then, Peter and I have become very aware that meningitis can affect anyone regardless of their age. You don’t necessarily get a rash – Peter certainly didn’t – but people must be aware that the other classic symptoms of the illness mustn’t be ignored. Our advice would be ‘better to be safe than sorry’ by seeking an urgent second opinion if necessary, not simply waiting to see if things improve.”

Natalie Jones, a medical law expert with the Bristol office of Irwin Mitchell solicitors, who is representing Mr Lovell, said: “We are in the very early stages of investigating possible civil proceedings against the locum GP concerned, however, we feel that there were clear indications that Peter was displaying symptoms which required further urgent investigation when he made the telephone call to the GP on the evening of 29th September 2008.

“Had Peter’s meningitis been diagnosed earlier, he would have been given prompt antibiotic treatment and he may have made a complete recovery.

“We very much hope that the important messages which Meningitis Awareness Week seeks to highlight are fully taken on board by members of the public and medical professionals alike. It is a sad irony that Peter contracted the condition just one week after Meningitis Awareness Week 2008, so it is vitally important that every effort is made to spread the message about key symptoms so that it remains at the front of everyone’s mind.”