Busy doctors do their best in what are often difficult circumstances, but mistakes that they make can have dreadful consequences. When this happens, it is only right that compensation should be paid. In one case, a woman who suffered a stroke after she was sent home from hospital with a serious infection after giving birth to her first child has won the right to very substantial damages.
Bacteria entered the wound left by the emergency Caesarean delivery but she was discharged from hospital two days after the birth. At home, her blood platelet count rose to very high levels and a clot formed in the carotid artery in her neck before travelling to her brain. The stroke has left her partially paralysed and her speech and intellect are impaired.
In ruling on her claim against the NHS trust that ran the hospital, the High Court noted the practical difficulties that doctors and nurses face on busy obstetric wards. It accepted that there are good reasons to discharge new mothers and their babies as soon as possible, if it is safe to do so, and that signs of fatigue and anxiety are often observed in new mothers.
However, prior to the woman's discharge, medical staff had noted that her white blood cell count was unusually high and that her pulse was elevated – a red flag sign of post-operative infection. There was no adequate basis for the assumption made that those symptoms were a result of anaemia.
The Court found that no reasonable body of doctors would have discharged the woman without carrying out further blood tests that would probably have revealed the presence, or likely presence, of the infection. There had, in the circumstances, been a clear failure to take reasonable care of her. The amount of the woman's compensation has yet to be assessed, but is bound to be substantial given the extent of her disabilities. The trust agreed to make an interim payment of £100,000 to tide her over until a final value can be put on her claim.