Disabled Boy Gets £6.7m Payout From Portsmouth NHS Trust

21 July 2014, 13:07 | Updated: 21 July 2014, 13:09

A severely-disabled boy who suffered brain damage, due to mistakes made by a Portsmouth hospital when he was four years old, has been awarded a settlement worth more than £6.7m.

The boy, now 12, whose identity is protected by a court order, suffered brain injuries after staff at St Mary's Hospital, Milton, failed to act quickly enough to spot that he had a serious medical condition.

As a result, he had a cardiac arrest which led to brain damage and left him with severe disabilities. He has no independent movements, is reliant upon skilled carers 24 hours a day and can only communicate through eye moments and the use of specialist technology.

Lawyers from BL Claims Solicitors pursued a clinical negligence claim on his behalf, alleging that there were delays in performing a chest x-ray to diagnose that the boy had a condition called congenital diaphragmatic hernia.

The condition is caused by the failure of the diaphragm to fuse properly while the child is developing in the womb, allowing organs to move from the abdomen up into the chest cavity.

It was also argued that there were delays in inserting a naso-gastric tube to decompress the stomach and a delay in summoning specialists when he went into cardiac arrest.

On 14 July in the Royal Courts of Justice, His Honour Judge Moloney QC, sitting as a Judge in the High Court, approved a settlement negotiated between the claimant and Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs St Mary's.

The settlement, estimated to exceed £6.7m, is made up of a lump sum of £3.2m plus annual payments of £265,000 a year until the claimant is aged 18 and then £305,000 a year for the rest of his life. The money will be used to pay for the specialist care the claimant needs.

Dr John White, of BL Claims Solicitors, acting for the family, said:

"This significant settlement reflects the devastating consequences of the mistakes made at St Mary's Hospital and the severity of the claimant's injuries.

"If the condition of congenital diaphragmatic hernia had been diagnosed more promptly and staff had acted more quickly to deal with its implications, the outcome would have been very different.

"The claimant needs round-the-clock care for the rest of his life and this settlement will help to ensure that he receives that."

The boy's parents said: "The very tragic part is that if the doctors had listened or taken any notice of what we kept saying as parents then this event would have been easily avoided.

"Instead our son's life has been completely ruined. He will never go to his school prom, enjoy playing on the beach or have fun kicking a football around with his friends. He will never eat a meal again or enjoy a drink or ice cream on a hot day.

"We will never see him get married or have children of his own. His active life has been sadly taken away from him and at such a young age.

"One message we would like give to all parents is please always trust your instincts when your child is unwell. If you believe that something is wrong then insist that action is taken by the doctors.

"Nothing will ever make up for the life that has been taken away from him. As a close family we will always fill his world with love and care and make sure that every moment he is with us is one we truly cherish and as happy as possible.

"Our son and his enormous daily battle are an inspiration to all that know or have met him. This is an absolute tragedy caused by mistakes that should never have happened."

The claimant was seen at St Mary's in the early hours of 30 September 2006 after developing pains in his stomach and admitted at around 7am. It was noted that his heartbeat was on his right hand side, which had not been noticed before. He was seen by the senior house officer at around 9am and by the registrar at about 11am.

It was considered that he was suffering from gastroenteritis or appendicitis and no chest x-ray was ordered until around 1pm, when he was seen by a consultant. The x-ray came back about half an hour later, showing air-filled bubbles in the left side of the boy's chest.

The consultant prescribed intravenous morphine for pain relief, which was administered by a nurse on the open ward, while the claimant was in his father's arms. The boy then started to pass out and was carried to the treatment room by his father where he suffered a cardiac arrest.

The arrest team were called but they took about 15 minutes to restore the boy's circulation.  A nasogastric tube was used to decompress the stomach and the claimant was transferred to the intensive care unit.

His condition was stabilised and he was transferred early in the evening to Southampton General Hospital where he underwent surgery to repair the defect in his diaphragm.

In the days that followed, it became apparent that at the time of the cardiac arrest, the claimant had suffered from a severe injury to his brain, which is the cause of his serious disabilities.  

The case was initially defended by the Trust and had been due to go to trial to decide on the issue of liability in the autumn of 2012.

Judgment was entered in the claimant's favour in October 2012, and the hearing on 14 July approved the amount of the settlement negotiated between the parties.

A spokesperson for Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust said:

"The Trust can confirm that a settlement has been reached in this case and that this has been approved by the Court. 

"The Trust has formally apologised to the patient and their family, for the sad outcome that occurred in this case.

"Since liability was resolved in 2012, the parties have been working together to reach agreement on a suitable package, not only to compensate the patient and their family, but to provide them with security for the future.

"The Trust wishes them well."