Parents of a child who was now left severely disabled after alleged blunders by out-of-hours GPs have won a £15m ($19.42m) settlement. The parents of Jacob Stratton, who is now nine years old, told the Sunday Times that doctors did not follow standard procedure when their son fell ill with meningitis when he was six weeks old and failed to identify the life-threatening condition.
"We were told when he was admitted to hospital that he had 30 minutes to live," said Jacob's father David. "It was terrifying."
The settlement is believed to be one of the largest involving out-of-hours doctors. Jacob's arrival at hospital and subsequent treatment was too late to prevent him suffering extensive brain damage.
The settlement had been reached in High Court last week by medical defence unions who defended Kent GPs Daniel Evans and Ruth Smith.
The parents called the out-of-hours clinic on 31 March when their six-week-old son fell ill with high temperature and seizures. Smith attributed the fit to "temper" and advised a dose of Calpol (infant paracetamol) medicine, ignoring guidelines which say babies running high temperatures should be examined. Smith disputed the account and claimed the baby's temperature had dropped when she had called.
Jacob was seen the next day by Evans at an out-of-hours walk-in centre in Folkestone. The infant was sent home without his temperature being taken. Evans reportedly said that Jacob would recover.
The Stratton's took Jacob to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford the next day, where he was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis – a form of bacterial meningitis. They were warned he was close to death. The infant was transferred to St Thomas' Hospital in central London when his condition stabilised and spent four days on life support.
"We were told they were going to take him off the life support machine, but they did not know what capability he had," Jacob's father, David, said. "If he had lost his reflux — the ability to cough and clear his throat — then he would die."
'We trusted the doctors'
The parents were told their son had extensive brain damage. Jacob, who has cerebral palsy and quadriplegia, is confined to a wheelchair and needs constant care. He is learning to communicate with an "eye gaze" computer and attends a special needs school.
"We trusted the doctors — we spoke to two different GPs. This settlement is not compensation for Jacob. It is enablement, to allow him to live as well as he can," said Mr Stratton said, speaking to the Times.
The money, much of which will be released periodically during Jacob's life, will be held and administered by a court-appointed official.
Nick Fairweather, a clinical negligence lawyer in Whitstable, Kent, who represented the family, said: "If a small amount of the sums that have to be paid in damages were redirected to frontline services, it would save huge sums, improve healthcare immeasurably and avoid the wholly unnecessary suffering that is caused to patients such as Jacob and their families."
The charity Meningitis Now provides guides on diagnosing meningitis in children and adults.