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Fatal sepsis misdiagnosed as upset stomach

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At the beginning of October 2011 an otherwise healthy 45 year old woman developed sickness and abdominal pain. She was not unduly concerned initially. However, within a few hours, the pain and sickness worsened.

She felt so poorly she attended her local hospital's Accident and Emergency department. She explained the symptoms to them and was sent home with a diagnosis of an upset stomach. But she didn’t get any better. Her vomiting got worse and the pain became unbearable.

She returned to the A&E department just a few hours after her first admission. The staff could see she was worse but thought that she was dehydrated. After giving her fluids, she was discharged in the early hours of the morning.

In fact, she was showing classic signs of sepsis but this was not considered as a diagnosis. If it had been and antibiotics had been administered at this point, it is likely that she would have survived.

The following morning, she managed to reach her mother’s home and collapsed at the front door. She had to be wheeled into the A&E department due to her disorientation and severe pain. By this third attendance within just over 24 hours, sepsis was finally diagnosed, but she was now in septic shock and started to have multiple organ failure. Despite the hospital’s efforts, she died at 9 pm that evening.

Access Legal Solicitor’s specialist medical negligence solicitor handling this case, Sarah Corser, said:

‘Sepsis affects 150,000 people annually and this tragic case is just one of 44,000 people who die of the condition each year. Many of those deaths could have been prevented if the initial symptoms were not dismissed as gastric problems, and were recognised as signs of the onset of sepsis, which as demonstrated here, can be fatal.’

This young woman was training to be a teaching assistant. She left a widower, her mother, who had already lost one daughter to cancer and two sisters. She also leaves her teenage goddaughter for whom she was legal guardian and a rock of stability.

Her death could have been avoided. If she had been admitted on either of the first two attendances in hospital and received antibiotic treatment she is likely to have survived. The hospital has admitted liability and the case continues with Sarah confident she can achieve justice for the family.

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