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Mum Takes Legal Action To Help Her Brain Damaged Son Gain Access To Lifetime Of Care

Medical Law Experts Instructed To Investigate Whether More Could Have Been Done to Prevent Spread of GBS Infection


The mum of a teenager who suffered brain damage shortly after birth caused by a preventable infection that is passed to newborns during labour has instructed expert medical lawyers in a bid to help secure her son access to a lifetime of care and support.

William Bell-Caisley, now 18, has cerebral palsy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism and a severe learning disability as a result of contracting the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection during his birth at Hexham General Hospital on 24 November 1995.

His mum Ruth Caisley, from Haltwhistle in Northumberland, has instructed medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell to investigate whether more could have been done to diagnose and treat the GBS infection sooner by staff within Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to prevent her son’s permanent brain damage.

GBS is carried by 30 percent of adults and can be found in the gut and vagina. It is usually 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, sepsis, and even be fatal if left untreated.

Providing a simple course of intravenous antibiotics to a mother known to be a carrier during labour can prevent the bacteria being passed to her baby, or providing the baby with the same treatment if diagnosed following birth can treat the infection.

There are 19 countries, including the USA and  France, that currently offer all expectant mothers GBS testing, yet this is not offered across the majority of hospitals in the UK.

Irwin Mitchell is backing Ruth in her call for increased awareness and screening for the condition to prevent further unnecessary tragedies. More information can be found here: www.gbss.org.uk

Michelle Armstrong, is a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office and former midwife who is representing the family. She said: 

Expert Opinion
It is currently not mandatory for GBS testing to be offered to all pregnant women so the Trust was not negligent by not providing this. However, had Ruth been tested it would have flagged that she was a carrier of the GBS bacteria and a care plan would have been put in place to administer antibiotics during labour to prevent it being passed to William.

"Our expert evidence has found there were missed opportunities to diagnose and treat William for GBS in the hours after his birth as he showed classic symptoms in particular breathing difficulties. This allowed the infection to spread into his blood stream resulting in his brain damage.

"William’s learning difficulties mean he is unable to work in paid employment and he will need care and rehabilitation throughout his lifetime, particularly as when he gets older his cerebral palsy will become even more difficult to manage. We hope that Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust will now work with us quickly and amicably to ensure William has access to the lifetime of support he needs to give him the best quality of life possible.

"We believe this case reinforces further the need for GBS testing to be routinely offered to expectant mothers to prevent further unnecessary brain damage in newborns being caused."
Michelle Armstrong, Solicitor

The day after William’s birth, tests confirmed he had GBS and he remained critically ill over the next few days as he struggled to breathe. His family were told that if he did survive, he would have a severe degree of brain damage.

Throughout his childhood, William was diagnosed with multiple development disorders and cerebral palsy affecting his lower limbs that is likely to progress further leaving him likely to become more dependent on a wheelchair.

He attends a specialist school for children with learning difficulties but mum Ruth is worried about what the future will hold.

The 40-year-old said: “Despite all the challenges he has faced, William is a remarkable young man and I am incredibly proud of everything he has achieved.

“However, the fact remains that a simple course of antibiotics could have prevented his brain damage and it’s hard not to feel angry about that.

“He should be looking to start work, find his own place to live and enjoying time with his friends but he will never get the chance to do any of those things.

“I worry about what the future holds for him, especially when the time comes that I am no longer able to care for him. He can’t stay in school forever but can’t work and he needs interaction with other young people. I want to ensure he always has access to the specialist support he needs so he has the best quality of life possible - it is the least he is entitled to.

“I also want to raise awareness of the huge impact GBS has on families in the hope it encourages hospitals to do more to recognise the infection and treat it appropriately. I had no idea I was a carrier and hadn’t even heard of the infection but being offered a swab test during my pregnancy would have ensured both the hospital staff and I were aware of the risks to William when he was born.”

Jane Plumb MBE, Chief Executive of Group B Strep Support, the UK charity dedicated to better prevention of group B Strep infection in babies says: “Group B Strep has left a brutal legacy for William and his family, made all the more tragic because his infection could have been prevented. 

“A simple test late in Ruth’s pregnancy is likely to have identified her GBS carriage status and triggered preventative medicine.  The number of newborn babies infected with group B Strep has increased by 18% to 270 in 2012 in England, Wales & Northern Ireland, compared with 229 in 2003* when the UK’s risk-based strategy was introduced – it is simply not working.   We need to equip our busy health professionals with better information and tools for detecting GBS if we are to see a positive change in GBS awareness and prevention.”

* data series online


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