Latest News & Views

Posted on 6th September 2017

Hospital Doctors Confused Meningitis for Bruises

A girl of six years old was rushed to Royal Oldham Hospital because she had a high temperature, headache and stomach ache. Medics diagnosed bruising when in fact she was suffering from Meningococcal Meningitis. The youngster died in the early hours the next morning.

After arriving at the hospital at around 8:30pm, the child was triaged 25 minutes later. Triage noted that a doctor was required within 10 minutes. Due to various delays it was an hour and 50 minutes before a doctor attended to the girl.

The doctor in attendance saw the rash on the child’s body but didn’t write down the information or mention it to her mum. The doctor concluded the child had a viral illness and sent her home because she was not suffering from any new symptoms.

A sister nurse who was in charge at the time however sent the girl to the paediatrics ward because she felt uncomfortable with the doctor's diagnosis. Once at the ward the girl was assessed by a junior doctor who again picked up on the rash but after speaking with the previous doctor did not take any further action.

30 minutes later a locum doctor saw the rash and decided to take action by taking a blood test and starting antibiotics for sepsis. Shortly after, the rash started to spread very quickly and the girl went into cardiac arrest.

An internal report by the hospital found that old assessment documents were used which did not facilitate the diagnosis of sepsis.

The report stated “The doctor who saw the patient initially did not recognise the rash, which was not documented at the time as being of a worrying nature, as a result the diagnosis of sepsis was missed for three and a half hours, during which treatment opportunities were missed.

A second opportunity to spot any rashes was missed when the rash was noted prior to transfer and escalated, false re-assurance was given that this was not a new finding so no action was taken”

The report mentioned “failure to identify the advanced nature of the sepsis and treat accordingly” and “failure to recognise a bruise as a purpuric rash and therefore as an indicator of meningococcal sepsis”


Misdiagnosing a meningitis infection for any prolonged period of time lessens the ability of recovery. Medics at every A&E department in the country should be well equipped to identify the condition regardless of whether an old triage document was used or not. Hospitals must regularly review the documentation they rely on to ensure it is up to date and then destroy any stocks of the old documentation.

In this case the delay of three and a half hours in administering medication to treat the illness has directly contributed to the untimely death of this child.

If you have suffered injury due to a delayed diagnosis or treatment being started later than it should, you may have grounds to make a claim for compensation. Call us on 0330 355 9210 or for a free claim assessment.