Mother’s 5-year fight for the truth after doctors missed signs of killer meningitis in her baby: ‘Neglectful’ medics said it was a virus and sent her home with Calpol

  • Eight-month-old Eloise Lema Dalton was taken to Leeds General Infirmary
  • Her mother Abby believed she was showing signs of meningitis 
  • But doctors insisted she had a virus and prescibed Calpol and ibuprofen
  • Days later, once her condition had deteriorated, she suffered a seizure
  • Died from multi-organ failure after pneumococcal meningitis, septicaemia
  • Coroner: Missed opportunities to appropriately care amounted to neglect 

A mother has exposed how ‘arrogant’ doctors missed signs her eight-month-old daughter had meningitis – and simply advised her to give her Calpol.

After a five-year battle to uncover the truth, an inquest has ruled that medics’ treatment of Abby Dalton’s daughter Eloise contributed to her death.

Miss Dalton, 37, said that doctors had ‘dismissed’ her concerns that her baby had meningitis and sent them home from hospital.

Eloise Lema Dalton - with her mother Abby - died from meningitis after doctors at Leeds General Infirmary repeatedly ruled out the fact she had the condition - insisting she simply had a virus 

Eloise Lema Dalton – with her mother Abby – died from meningitis after doctors at Leeds General Infirmary repeatedly ruled out the fact she had the condition – insisting she simply had a virus

Missed opportunities to appropriately care for Eloise amounted to neglect, inquest heard. Her mother said: 'We always think "what if?" They should have given my child the care she needed. I'll never understand the reasons why'

Missed opportunities to appropriately care for Eloise amounted to neglect, inquest heard. Her mother said: ‘We always think “what if?” They should have given my child the care she needed. I’ll never understand the reasons why’

The worried mother, who had even brought a checklist of common symptoms of meningitis to the hospital, said the doctors made her feel like an ‘overly-protective parent’.

They told her it was ‘just a virus’ and advised her simply to give her Calpol and ibuprofen.

But Eloise’s condition worsened and she died six days later, after more blunders by medical staff at Leeds General Infirmary, the inquest heard.

The hospital then told the grieving mother there was no need to involve a coroner, but Miss Dalton contacted one herself to expose the truth and the inquest has finally taken place.

Recording a narrative verdict, coroner David Hinchliff said that doctors’ inadequate care for Eloise and the mistakes in treatment amounted to neglect, contributing to her death from multi-organ failure. A serious incident report detailed a total of 27 failings by the NHS trust.

On the day she fell ill, Eloise (pictured here when healthy) was listless, pale, had mottled skin and a rash on her chest. But her condition was not identified - despite her mother taking a 'meningitis checklist' she had on her fridge to hospital

On the day she fell ill, Eloise (pictured here when healthy) was listless, pale, had mottled skin and a rash on her chest. But her condition was not identified – despite her mother taking a ‘meningitis checklist’ she had on her fridge to hospital

Miss Dalton said: 'We were made to feel like overly protective parents. There was a sense of arrogance from the doctors. I did what parents are told to do and I had the checklist of symptoms but no one listened to me'

Miss Dalton said: ‘We were made to feel like overly protective parents. There was a sense of arrogance from the doctors. I did what parents are told to do and I had the checklist of symptoms but no one listened to me’

Miss Dalton, an IT manager, said: ‘If they had listened to me when we first took her in then she would have survived.

‘I would say to other parents that you need to trust your instincts. Doctors don’t always get it right. You have to push every step of the way.’

She added: ‘No one would listen to me. We faced blocker after blocker after blocker.’

Miss Dalton, of Guiseley, West Yorkshire, noticed Eloise ‘wasn’t herself’ after picking her up from nursery in December 2009.

She spotted a rash and, recognising it as a possible sign of meningitis from a picture card of symptoms she kept on her fridge, took Eloise to hospital.

A report into Eloise's care found a raft of failings including a failure to act on parental concerns and misdiagnosis

Her mother said: 'They didn't think her condition warranted intensive care interventions. If she was on antibiotics she would have survived'

A report into Eloise’s care found a raft of failings including a failure to act on parental concerns and misdiagnosis

‘We had to wait for what felt like an age. The doctors were really arrogant and I felt they were dismissing my concerns,’ she said.

Eloise was sent home, but Miss Dalton took her back to hospital two days later when she developed an alarmingly high temperature.

An investigation by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust led to a report recommending 22 changes in paediatric care, which have been implemented

An investigation by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust led to a report recommending 22 changes in paediatric care, which have been implemented

Doctors again tried to send Eloise home, but Miss Dalton refused to leave. Medics stuck to their diagnosis even after Eloise suffered a 30-minute seizure. She was eventually admitted to paediatric intensive care the following day.

Blood tests confirmed Eloise had meningitis two days later on December 16 – the day before she died. Sadly, by then it was too late to treat her.

A report by Dr Nelly Ninis, a consultant in paediatrics from St Mary’s Hospital in London, concluded that if Eloise had been put on antibiotics at her first visit to hospital she would have survived.

The inquest in Leeds also heard criticism of hospital authorities for not reporting the death to a coroner themselves.

Asked if she thought the hospital had tried to cover-up failings, Miss Dalton, who has a four-year-old daughter Megan and is now separated from the girls’ father, said: ‘They wanted the whole thing to go away and we didn’t.’

The NHS trust later agreed to pay Eloise’s family an undisclosed six-figure settlement.

An investigation by Leeds Teaching Hospitals recommended 22 changes in paediatric care, which have since been implemented.

Dr Yvette Oade, chief medical officer of the NHS Trust, said: ‘I would like to extend our sincere sympathy to the family of Eloise and to apologise for the failings in her care, which we fully acknowledge and have taken detailed steps to address.’

MENINGITIS: WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Meningitis vaccines offer excellent protection, but they are not yet available for all forms.

So it’s vital to know meningitis symptoms and what to do if you suspect someone has meningitis or septicemia.

Symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia: 

  • Fever and/or vomitting
  • Severe headache
  • Limb, joint or muscle pain
  • Cold hands and feet and or shivering
  • Pale or mottled skin
  • Breathing fast or feeling breathless
  • A rash anywhere on the body
  • A stiff neck – less common in young children
  • A dislike of bright lights – less common in young children
  • Very sleepy, vacant, or difficult to wake
  • Confused or delirious
  • Seizures or fits may be seen

Other signs in babies:

  • Tense or bulging soft spot on their head
  • Refusing to feed
  • Irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry
  • A stiff body with jerky movements, or else floppy and lifeless
  • Fever is often absent in babies less than three months of age

Septicaemia can occur with or without meningitis. Not everyone gets all the symptoms and they can appear in any order.

Source: Meningitis Research Foundation 

Meningitis and septicaemia: Know the symptoms

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