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Girl, 13, likely to have survived if moved to intensive care, coroner rules

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A 13-year-old girl who died after contracting sepsis in an NHS hospital probably would have survived if doctors had identified the warning signs and transferred her to intensive care earlier, a coroner has ruled.

Martha Mills was the first ever child to die at King’s College hospital (KCH) with a pancreatic injury of the type she sustained in a fall from her bike on an off-road family trail in Wales while on holiday last year. She was transferred to the south London hospital because it is one of three national centres for the care of children with pancreatic trauma.

An inquest at St Pancras coroner’s court, north London, heard that several opportunities were missed to refer Martha to intensive care, which probably would have saved her life.

In an emotional witness statement, Martha’s mother, Merope, said that after their daughter contracted an infection on 21 August last year, she and her husband, Paul Laity, raised concerns about Martha’s deteriorating health a number of times but doctors sought to reassure them rather than escalate her care.

Mills said in her statement that she explicitly raised her fears about Martha going into septic shock over the bank holiday weekend.

On 29 August, Martha had high fever, low blood pressure, a racing heart and a rash, which was misdiagnosed by a junior doctor despite Mills voicing her concern that it was caused by sepsis. It was only the next day that Martha was admitted to paediatric intensive care.

“I felt that my anxieties about all of Martha’s symptoms, and especially what they might mean when put together and considered in the round, weren’t given proper acknowledgement,” Mills told the court.

Prof William Bernal, who produced a serious incident report on Martha’s death for KCH, said there were at least five occasions when she should have had a critical care review.

He wrote that Martha’s chances of survival “would have been greatly increased” if she had been admitted to critical care earlier.

The inquest heard that KCH was making changes in the wake of Martha’s death, including improving diagnostics and taking account of parents’ views.

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Source: The Guardian, 3 March 2022

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