Child's medical negligence claim dismissed


THE HIGH Court has dismissed a medical negligence claim brought on behalf of a child with profound physical and mental difficulties against the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin.

Mark Duffy (10) claimed he suffered severe brain injuries and the loss of an eye as a result of alleged failures in his treatment for meningitis after his premature birth.

The action seeking damages was brought through his mother, Linda, of Glen Drive, the Park, Cabinteely, Co Dublin.

The hospital denied the claims.

In a lengthy and detailed judgment, Mr Justice Seán Ryan dismissed the claim after holding that the evidence did not establish any failure of care or negligence by the hospital in its treatment of Mark.

Mr Justice Ryan said Mark, who has cerebral palsy, was born prematurely at the hospital on July 18th, 2002, by Caesarean section after a 30-week pregnancy.

In addition to being premature, Mark was of very low birth weight. These two factors, the judge said, made him vulnerable to infection.

During the second week of his life he contracted meningitis, which caused severe brain damage and left him with permanent physical and mental disabilities.

The action, the judge said, centred on Mark’s treatment on July 30th and 31st, which experts on his behalf claimed was substandard. They claimed the hospital should have suspected meningitis and carried out a lumbar puncture.

Mark’s lawyers claimed that if he had been properly treated when he first showed signs of infection, he would have escaped all or almost all of the damage wreaked by the disease.

The hospital denied it was negligent or had breached its duty of care towards Mark.

It said it was not standard practice to perform a lumbar puncture if it is suspected that a young baby has an infection. The procedure can be highly invasive and destabilising.

The judge said after considering expert evidence tendered by both sides that considerable doubt exists whether lumbar punctures should be performed on small babies with infections or respiratory distress unless there are pointers to a meningitis diagnosis.

In this case, the judge said, the evidence did not establish a failure of care because the doctors treating Mark at the hospital did not do a lumbar puncture. There was no basis for holding there was negligence, he added. The judge accepted evidence given by the hospital’s experts that when Mark was presented to them there was nothing to suggest the likelihood he had meningitis. It was reasonable for the hospital to wait and see how the situation developed.