A mother is launching legal action after claiming medics missed opportunities to treat a rare infection that left her son with severe brain injuries.
Teenager William Bell-Caisley suffers cerebral palsy, ADHD, autism and learning difficulties after doctors failed to spot the bacteria after his birth, it’s claimed.
His mother, Ruth Caisley, claims doctors did not wipe out the infection, Group B Streptococcus, because they failed to prescribe a course of antibiotics in the first few hours of her son’s life.
Because they failed to act, she says the illness seeped into his blood stream and left him with such serious brain injuries he needs constant care and attention.
Now she is launching legal action nearly two decades after the 18-year-old was left with life-changing brain injuries at Hexham General Hospital.
Last night Ruth, 40, who lives in Haltwhistle, Northumberland, with her husband, Martin, 42, an offshore rig worker, and daughter, Bobbi, 12, re-lived the moment she was rushed to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary from the Northumberland hospital with a police escort.
She said: “He was crying and crying and making a grunting noise. His temperature was low and they wrapped him up. At about 9pm all of a sudden a flying squad came from the RVI with a police escort.
“He had to be resuscitated and taken to Newcastle and spent six weeks in intensive care. At one point they told us to turn off the life-support machine because they said the best case was that he wouldn’t come off the ventilator.
“We were sitting in this room ready to do it and I just thought, ‘No, I can’t’. He had been in hospital since he was born and I didn’t want that.
“I really had no idea what was going on. I was 21 and I had no idea what to do. There’s still not a day that goes by where I don’t think about it. I’ve never been in that situation where nobody can help you.”
Just 24 hours after William’s birth, tests confirmed he had GBS and he remained critically ill and struggling 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.
But if doctors had administered a simple course of intravenous antibiotics to Ruth during her labour it would have prevented the bacteria being passed to her baby.
There are 19 countries, including the USA and France, that currently offer all expectant mothers GBS testing, but the majority of hospitals in the UK do not carry out screening.
Ruth 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.”
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “We can confirm that we have received a letter of claim from the family and are investigating this.”
Bid to raise awareness of rare infection
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is carried by 30% of adults and is usually harmless unless it is passed to unborn babies or newborns.
Young babies do not have the immune system to cope with the illness and it can cause meningitis, pneumonia, sepsis, and can even be fatal if left untreated.
Ruth has now enlisted the help of solicitors from Irwin Mitchell as she fights for compensation.
Michelle Armstrong, a medical law expert at the firm’s Newcastle office and a former midwife who is representing the family, said: “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.”
Ruth is calling for increased awareness and screening for the condition to prevent further unnecessary tragedies. More information can be found at www.gbss.org.uk