In a recent interview by The Independent, Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) admitted that the hospital’s mistakes played a part in the death of five-year-old Walif Yafi.
The admission came a few months after a three-year legal case with Walif’s parents was concluded. In this case, GOSH denied responsibility for the boy’s death.
The Events leading to Walif’s death
Walif suffered from cancer shortly after his birth and had to undergo a liver transplant. He was being seen as an outpatient by Great Ormond Street Hospital and by the transplant team at the King’s College Hospital, where he had surgery.
On August 24, 2017, GOSH conducted a routine blood test on him, which showed he had an adenovirus infection.
A blood test indicating an adenovirus, for a high-risk patient like Walif, should have been flagged to the doctors at King’s College Hospital where he had been receiving treatment. However, due to an oversight on the part of Great Ormond Street Hospital, it was not.
A short time later, Walif fell ill. On the 7th September 2017, at King’s College Hospital, his illness was confirmed to be an adenovirus infection. The hospital quickly began anti-viral therapy, but at this stage, the five-year-old’s condition was deteriorating.
Despite treatment, the adenovirus infection continued to spread causing multiple organ failure. On the 30th September 2017, Walif had a heart attack and passed away.
Walif’s parents had taken GOSH to Court, demanding answers and justice for the death of their child. GOSH admitted negligence but denied liability for the boy’s death.
The litigation continued for three years. Finally, in September 2020, Walif’s parents agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the hospital, concluding the case.
GOSH had called in an expert to review the case during the litigation. Unknown to the family, this expert had concluded that the hospital’s actions had contributed to Walif’s death. Walif’s parents were not made aware of this.
According to a GOSH spokesperson, the hospital had not been obligated to share that information, and withholding it was “normal.”
Ashraf Uddin, Walif’s father, said that he and his wife had known “deep down that Walif had been let down.” He expressed his disappointment in the hospital, saying that, “it has been a long and painful journey for our family as it shouldn’t have taken this long for answers and clarity to be provided.”
What are Adenoviruses?
Adenoviruses are a group of viruses which typically infect the airways, lungs, the lining of the eyes, and the urinary tract. These viruses cause symptoms that are very similar to the common cold or influenza. They include:
- Sore throat
- Conjunctivitis or pink eye
- Swelling of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis and encephalitis)
- Stomach and intestinal infections, et cetera.
Adenoviruses are very contagious. They can spread through droplets when a carrier coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land on surfaces and therefore the virus can survive for some time on surfaces.
Infections from this group of viruses are not usually fatal in young people and usually resolve in a few days without requiring any medication. However, in the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, these viruses can have serious implications.
Adenoviruses in Children on Immunosuppressant drugs
Organ transplant recipients often have weakened immune systems. In order to prevent their bodies from rejecting the transplant, they must regularly take drugs which keep their immune systems suppressed.
While the drugs help keep the patient alive, they also pave the way for various infections due to the suppressed immune system. A combination of anti-fungal, anti-biotic, and anti-viral medications are usually prescribed to manage this risk.
Child transplant recipients are 2 to 3.5 times more likely to become infected from adenoviruses than adults. According to experts, “The incidence of infection in pediatric liver transplant recipients ranges from 4 to 10%, with mortality rates as high as 53%.”
Research indicates that the risk of developing an adenovirus infection in a patient like Walif, a five-year-old liver transplant recipient, should have been clear. The failure to acknowledge the risk appears to be a serious oversight on the part of Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Unfortunately, this is not the only instance where Great Ormond Street Hospital has been implicated for shortcomings in the care provided to patients.
Other Cases involving Great Ormond Street Hospital
The case of Jasmine Hughes
Jasmine Hughes, aged 20 months, died at Great Ormond Street Hospital after suffering from acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM).
The doctors attributed her death to ADEM complications, a condition in which the brain and spinal cord are inflamed due to a viral infection. However, on examination of detailed computer records, it was found out that the toddler died after her blood pressure was inadequately handled by the doctors at GOSH and another hospital, the Lister Hospital.
Jasmine’s ADEM caused her blood pressure to increase. After a series of trips to the Lister Hospital, she was admitted on the 4th February 2011 and treated with steroids. Steroids are a routine treatment for ADEM, however they are also known to increase blood pressure.
She began to have seizures after the first dose and was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital.
At GOSH, Jasmine was given medication to reduce her blood pressure. However, her blood pressure was reduced too quickly for a child suffering from a swollen brain due to high blood pressure. As a result, Jasmine began to show signs of shock as her blood pressure fell.
Jasmine exhibited clinical signs of brain stem death and died a few hours later.
No written records of these important events were found throughout her treatment in both hospitals.
This led to an inquest, which came to the shocking conclusion that “some of Jasmine’s contemporaneous medical observations and records were deliberately removed or tampered with.”
The case of Elizabeth Dixon
Elizabeth Dixon was prematurely born on 14 December 2000, in Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey. Two weeks later, she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer, in her abdomen. The cancer caused her blood pressure to increase.
To manage the situation, Elizabeth was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where they quickly lowered her blood pressure. Reducing blood pressure too quickly, as the previous case established, is dangerous for a child. As a result, Elizabeth was left severely brain-damaged and had to use a tracheostomy tube.
After spending 10 months at GOSH, she was transferred to a hospice. She spent some time there before returning home to a 24/7 care package. Their care provider was Primecare, who assured them that specialist nurses would be provided.
The nurse caring for the child, Joyce Aburime, was inexperienced in tracheostomy care. On the 3rd December 2001, Elizabeth’s tracheostomy tube got blocked, and Aburime, not knowing what to do about it, panicked.
The child was rushed to Frimley Park Hospital. Due to the delay the doctors could not save Elizabeth and she passed away in the early hours of 4th December 2001.
Frimley Park Hospital’s pediatric clinical director, Dr. Michael Tettenborn, recorded that Elizabeth’s death was the result of natural causes. This led the coroner not to initiate a hospital inquiry into her death.
It was upon examination by Elizabeth’s parents that the tracheostomy tube was found to be blocked. Efforts by the parents to undertake an in-depth investigation of the events leading to their daughter’s death were repeatedly frustrated.
In 2017, Dr. Bill Kirkup was appointed to lead an inquiry into Elizabeth’s death which revealed that GOSH had withheld information and were dishonest.
Dr. Kirkup, found “clear evidence that some individuals have been persistently dishonest, both by omission and by commission, and that this extended to formal statements to police and regulatory bodies.”
Claim compensation for mistakes made by a hospital
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