Baby’s death from septicaemia due to delays in recognising severe illness

09 Dec 2021

Baby’s death from septicaemia due to delays in recognising severe illness

A report published today, by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) has highlighted that babies and children with fever when the cause is not known at first are a major challenge to health care professionals. Distinguishing less serious viral illnesses from life-threatening bacterial infections, which start with mild symptoms can be very difficult.

The investigation focussed on the case of Mohammad, a three-month old baby boy, who tragically died from meningococcal group B (MenB) septicaemia in 2018. Health care professionals at first thought that he just had a mild viral illness.

The investigation which followed revealed a number of factors contributing to this tragedy, and produced recommendations to improve recognition of infants and children who are seriously ill.

This included the finding that existing systems need to take into account the colour of a patient’s skin, and that it is harder to spot some signs such as paleness and skin turning blue in non-white skin.

A further finding was that parents often feel ‘powerless’ when describing concerns about a sick child and feel that healthcare professionals don’t listen to what they are telling them. The report emphasises that safety advice provided to parents on deterioration varies across the NHS.

Vinny Smith Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) said: “This is a tragic example of the devastating consequences of not recognising and treating septicaemia quickly enough. We are deeply saddened by what happened to Mohammad, and our thoughts and condolences go out to the family and friends. We’re here to help anyone affected by meningitis and septicaemia.”

“MRF strongly supports the need for standardised safety netting resources and have previously advocated for this in our report: ‘Spotting a seriously ill child.’”

“We are also committed to raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia, and our symptoms materials for the public, and health care professional materials include photos of the meningococcal rash on non-white skin, with advice that the rash may be more visible in areas such as the palms of hands, soles of feet, abdomen or inside the eyelids and the roof of the mouth.”

“The HSIB report makes some important recommendations, that we hope will result in earlier identification and treatment of seriously ill children, and save lives.”

Anyone with questions or concerns can call the free MRF helpline on 080 8800 3344 or email helpline@meningitis.org. The helpline hours are Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm.

  • Additional images of clinical signs and symptom in black and brown skin can be found in ‘Mind the Gap’ a handbook developed by researchers and medics at St George’s University of London.
  • Meningitis Research Foundation encourages the distribution of our symptoms material. Please contact info@meningitis.org if you would like to use images from our materials.
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