Poor Monitoring and Failure to Treat Infection Left Baby Boy Brain Damaged

Medical Law Experts Call For Urgent Action To Prevent Spread Of Group B Streptococcus Bacteria In Unborn Babies

04.03.2014

The devoted parents of a six-year-old boy left severely brain damaged at birth because staff failed to appropriately treat an infection have spoken out to raise awareness of the bacteria called Group B Streptococcus (group B Strep/GBS).

It follows an approval hearing at the High Court in London today (4 March) after medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell secured Idriss Abrous a seven-figure lifetime care and rehabilitation package from The Whittington Hospital NHS Trust, after it admitted a catalogue of errors in his delivery.

Idriss was born fighting for his life on 5 March 2007 at Whittington Hospital despite maternity staff diagnosing his mum Olivia Amorim-Abrous as being a carrier of GBS and being aware of the risks this could cause.

Providing simple antibiotics during Olivia’s labour would have managed the infection and prevented it from being spread to Idriss, who was unable to cope with the infection and the stresses of labour. Ultimately, his brain was starved of oxygen.

In 2011, the Trust admitted a series of errors, including failing to provide antibiotics, inadequate monitoring and failing to offer a C-Section and it also confirmed that if Idriss had been delivered just 30 minutes earlier, the brain damage would, in all likelihood, have been avoided.

The six-year-old has been left with severe cerebral palsy that means he will need 24-hour care for the rest of his life. The settlement secured by Irwin Mitchell will cover all his accommodation, education, specialist equipment and most importantly his care needs, giving his parents peace of mind he will always be looked after. It will be managed by the firm’s in-house specialist Court of Protection team.

GBS is carried by 30 percent of adults and can be found in the gut and vagina. It is harmless until it is passed to unborn babies or newborns who do not have the immune system to cope with it and can cause meningitis, pneumonia and can even be fatal for them.

There are 19 countries, including the USA and Australia, that currently offer all expectant mothers GBS testing, yet this is not mandatory across all hospitals in the UK. Irwin Mitchell is backing Olivia and her husband, Mourad, in their call for increased awareness and screening for the condition to prevent further unnecessary tragedies. More information can be found here: www.gbss.org.uk

Auriana Griffiths, is a Partner and medical negligence expert at Irwin Mitchell’s London office representing the family.

Expert Opinion
There are too many cases where expectant mums have not been tested for GBS so labour goes ahead without anyone realising the potential risks. This is not acceptable when a simple test can diagnose the infection and an appropriate care plan can be progressed.

“The tragedy in this case is that Olivia was tested, yet it was completely worthless as maternity staff failed to act on the results and provide the necessary antibiotics which would have prevented the GBS from spreading to Idriss before he was born. Further, they failed to act upon clear signs of infection during labour until it was too late and failed to appreciate that Idriss was in trouble.

“This error has had a devastating effect on the entire family and they will never come to terms with the fact that Idriss’ brain damage should have been prevented. The Trust must ensure every possible step has been taken in ensuring that positive test results are acted upon and staff recognise the early signs of infection during labour. In addition, maternity staff require regular training on fetal monitoring so that they can act swiftly to call for help when there is a problem.

“Nothing can turn back the clock, but we hope the settlement provides reassurance that Idriss’ complex care needs will be met whatever the future holds and he will have access to rehabilitation with therapies that will give him the best quality of life possible and enable him to reach his potential.”
Auriana Griffiths, Partner

The couple, who lived in Muswell Hill in North London before they moved back to Paris in France at the end of 2007, have devoted their lives to caring for Idriss, who is reliant on a wheelchair, unable to speak and has severe learning difficulties. They have gone on to have two other children.

Olivia, 36, said: “It was my first pregnancy and we were so excited to welcome Idriss into our family. After suffering abdominal pain at 17 weeks, I’d had a swab to test for infection and the result confirmed GBS but I was not told of the positive result, so I had no idea that there was cause for concern or that my labour should have been managed differently as a result.

“As my labour progressed, I knew something wasn’t right as I began suffering a fever and couldn’t stop shaking, but I assumed the maternity staff knew what they were doing.

“When Idriss was eventually born, he didn’t make a sound and was blue so staff rushed him to the resuscitation room and there was nothing me or my husband could do but wait. He had to undergo scans on his brain at just five hours old and we were devastated to be told he had suffered brain damage.

“We just couldn’t understand how it was possible for this to happen when I had been told just hours before that my unborn baby was healthy. We were desperate for answers so instructed Irwin Mitchell and when we learnt that the brain damage was avoidable if staff had acted on the GBS result with antibiotics, it made us incredibly angry.

“We’re pleased the legal action is now over and it gives us peace of mind to know that Idriss will have access to the best possible care throughout his life. But the fact remains he should not have suffered brain damage.”

Olivia added: “I cannot understand why more isn’t done to protect women with GBS. If I had not shown symptoms I would never have been tested like hundreds of other women in the UK, which seems crazy when a simple swab could ensure the appropriate action is taken during labour to prevent it from spreading to a baby.

“We would like to see all pregnant women offered a test for GBS and increased training for maternity staff in the appropriate treatment during labour to ensure the baby is protected from the bacteria. These are simple steps that could make the world of difference to families like ours and ensure no one else has to suffer the same horrendous ordeal.”

Jane Plumb MBE, Chief Executive of Group B Strep Support, the UK’s only charity dedicated to the prevention of GBS infection in newborn babies commented: “We feel so much for the family of Idriss, particularly as key GBS risk-factors, such as the mother testing positive and her fever in labour, were missed.

“GBS infection is up to 90% preventable when a woman carrying GBS is given antibiotics during labour, however, current NHS risk-based guidelines on handling GBS infection are woefully implemented. In many cases, they are poorly understood or interpreted.

“Midwives are uniquely placed to help prevent early onset GBS infection. However, in a recent GBSS Midwife Survey[1], almost half (44%) of Midwives polled revealed that they do not feel they have the information they need about group B Strep in order to inform and protect pregnant women.”

If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of cerebral palsy caused by medical negligence, we may be able to help you claim compensation. See our Medical Negligence Guide for more information.