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Avoidable child deaths from meningitis and septicaemia

24 June 2005

Findings of a confidential study, funded by Meningitis Research Foundation, are published today in the British Medical Journal.

This study investigated all children under 17 years who died from meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia between December 1997 - February 1999. The study, which was undertaken under the auspices of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in collaboration with Paediatricians at St Mary's Hospital, Imperial College London. The authors compared hospital treatment of 143 children who died with 355 children treated over the same period who survived.

The study found three main problems were independently associated with death. Children who were looked after by doctors who had no paediatric training were more likely to die, as were children treated by junior doctors with insufficient consultant supervision. Cases where management did not follow a widely available treatment protocol and therefore did not get aggressive early treatment were also more likely to die. The study concludes that with wider use of treatment protocols, and better training and supervision of hospital staff, more children may survive this deadly disease.

Said Denise Vaughan, Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation: "Although the discovery of failures in the delivery of healthcare to children is distressing to families and healthcare professionals alike, progress in treatment can only be made by identifying where failures occur and correcting them."

"As a direct result of this research the charity has produced a handbook for junior doctors that explains how to identify and manage meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia. The handbook allows doctors in training not only to recognise the early signs of meningococcal disease, but to learn through the mistakes of others. We hope that these measures will save lives"

Prof. Michael Levin, Director of Research at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, who designed and led the study said: "In the past, many seriously ill children have been treated in hospital emergency departments by staff with little training in Paediatrics, and with inadequate supervision by senior experienced paediatricians. Our study provides clear evidence that the chance of surviving meningococcal septicaemia or meningitis, is reduced if children are treated by medical teams without involvement of a paediatrician, or without supervision by experienced consultants or if current treatment recommendations are not followed. The findings highlight the need for better consultant supervision, and improved training of medical teams involved in the care of critically ill children."

Families of the children throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland voluntarily took part in the study. This is the largest of its kind to have been conducted in this country.

Research Archive for the public - Health care delivery and outcome: a confidential enquiry into meningococcal disease in children

Research Archive for the scientific community - Health care delivery and the outcome of meningococcal disease in children

Becky Pierce-Jones

Becky Pierce-Jones

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