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Brain-damaged boy awarded €22.5m over delayed meningitis diagnosis

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An eight-year-old boy who suffered brain damage after contracting a meningitis infection in the days after his birth at a Cork hospital has settled his High Court action for €22.5 million.

Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) on Thursday apologised “unreservedly” in court to Calum Spillane and his family “for the delay in diagnosing Calum’s infection and the injuries he suffered”.

Calum’s counsel Dr John O’Mahony SC told the court it is a very sad case. Calum’s speech is “enormously limited” , he said and the boy has dyskinetic cerebral palsy. He needs 24-hour care and has to use a wheelchair.

“He was born in good condition and a bad infection developed. The hospital were not alert when they should have been, Calum developed meningitis and there were devastating personal sequalae for him and for the rest of his life ,”Dr O’Mahony, appearing with Cian O’Mahony BL, said .

The settlement is one of the highest before the High Court for a person who has suffered extensive brain damage. Speaking outside the court, the family said they hope their son will now receive the therapies he requires and which were stopped because of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

It was claimed that following Calum’s delivery at the Cork hospital on August 1st, 2012, there was a delay in diagnosing and treating his Group B streptococcal infection and it progressed to the stage where he suffered meningitis and severe brain injury. It was further claimed there was a failure to ensure the appropriate assessment of the baby when midwifery personnel had noted on three occasions on the afternoon/evening of August 2nd their concerns for the baby.

In the apology on behalf of Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH), which was read to the High Court on Thursday, it said: “CUMH have learned important lessons from your experience and we continue to educate our staff regarding the importance of optimal communication and escalation across all our multidisciplinary team.”

It added: “We can only express our sincere regret to you and your family for what has happened and wish you both and your two boys Calum and Tom the very best for the future.”

Dr O’Mahony told the court liability was admitted in the case and the settlement was reached after mediation talks. Calum’s parents Patrick English and Linda Spillane were in court to hear the apology.

Calum’s mother Linda Spillane told Mr Justice Kevin Cross that Calum and her family have suffered. She said Calum sees his two-year-old brother Tom walking across the fields with his father and “he can’t tell us he if he is upset by it.”

She said her son has regressed since the Covid-19 lockdown when his therapies stopped. “We want him now to have a team working with him and to have one to one for speech and other therapies. He always has a big smile on his face and he is very sociable,” she said.

She told the court that their two-year-old son has already surpassed Calum and for them “ that is very bitter.”

Calum Spillane, Mitchelstown Caves, Burncourt, Cahir, Co Tipperary had through his mother sued the HSE over the provision of medical care to him around the time of his birth at Cork University Maternity Hospital.

Within an hour of Calum’s birth, his mother developed a significant fever and testing of her blood showed a raised white cell count and neutrophilia. All of these, Counsel said were indicative of infection.

Calum was unwell after his birth with excessive sleepiness, crying and moaning. It is claimed there was a failure to appreciate the possibility he had an infection when midwifery personnel on August 2nd described Calum as moaning and pale.

It was further claimed a delay occurred when the baby on August 2nd at 6pm was noted to be pale and moaning and a review of the baby was requested, but that did not occur until 10.30pm.

Midwifery personnel it was claimed had noted on three occasions around the afternoon/ evening of August 2nd their concerns about the baby and there was an alleged failure to appreciate the possibility the baby had an infection when the review assessment was carried out.

There was it was alleged an incorrect conclusion Calum was behaving as a normal baby in the early hours of August 3rd and there was an alleged failure to respond appropriately to repeated documenting of concerns by midwifery personnel. There was also it was claimed a failure to ensure that proper investigation was carried out and antibiotic therapy commenced in a timely manner.

It was further alleged there was a failure to carry out blood testing in an appropriate and timely manner. Blood tests between August 2nd and the early hours of August 3rd, it was claimed, would have indicated the probability of significant bacterial infection mandating appropriate intravenous antibiotic treatment.

When a diagnosis of the meningitis was made the baby suffered seizures and an MRI scan later showed the boy had suffered significant brain injury.

Approving the settlement Mr Justice Cross said it was a good one and should not be regarded as a “bonus” by anybody. It was to provide care for Calum for the duration of his lifetime. He wished the family well for the future and congratulated the parents for the care they have given their son.

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