On 18 April 2013 Brindley Twist Tafft and James Solicitors and Barrister Teresa Hargreaves of Number 5 Chambers, Birmingham, represented the family of Jessica Strong at the inquest touching her life at Stoke Coroner’s Court. The story of Jessica’s short life and tragic death received coverage in the national press and on local television.
Jessica was born prematurely in Nuneaton and transferred to a specialist baby unit in Stoke, as the local units either did not have space or did not have the facilities to meet her requirements. Initially Jessica thrived despite her prematurity but she then became acutely unwell and sadly passed away at just 11 days old.
A post mortem revealed that baby Jessica had contracted Serratia Marcesans, a common bacteria which thrives in moist conditions and can be found in many bathrooms. The bacteria is readily fought off by adults and children but is aggressive and difficult to treat in the very young. In this particular instance the bacteria was known to have colonised, but not infected, a different baby on the unit and the treating doctors had not considered a link. Jessica only received the correct antibiotics for the infection a matter of hours before her death, by which time the damage was too severe.
Serratia Marcesans was found to have colonised six babies on the unit with another baby dying several days later. The Coroner recorded a narrative verdict that Jessica had died from extreme prematurity and infection spread by human contact, most likely as a result of poor hand washing practice in the unit.
Although the hospital suggested that it could have been members of the public who did not use the hand gels, the family were strongly of the opinion that the spread of infection must have been by hospital staff given that six different babies were colonised by the bacteria. The hospital staff confirmed that hand washing and other hygiene procedures are amongst the best in the country following a review of their practices.
The NHS Litigation Authority which represents the hospital trust made an early admission of liability prior to the inquest and compensation negotiations remain ongoing.
About the author
Richard Stanford is a Medical Negligence Solicitor at Brindley Twist Tafft & James and is very experienced in a wide range of clinical negligence cases.