Group B Streptococcus – Clinical Negligence Claim Promotes Patient Safety


The primary focus of almost all clinical negligence claims is, of course, compensating victims. As a High Court case showed, however, they can also serve the important purpose of highlighting medical risks and prompting improvements to patient safety.

The case concerned an 11-year-old boy who, as a newborn, was struck down by group B streptococcal meningitis. Due to brain damage arising from the infection, he is severely autistic and prey to a number of cognitive and neurological difficulties. He is never expected to be able to make important decisions for himself.

His mother devoted herself to his care and, with the assistance of a medical support charity, took steps to publicise issues raised by the case. A number of NHS trusts have since adopted routine testing for group B streptococcus during pregnancy, a practice which prevails in some other developed countries, including Germany, France and the USA.

Proceedings were brought on the boy’s behalf, alleging that his mother should have been given antibiotics during pregnancy. The NHS trust that ran the hospital where he was born admitted breaches of duty relating to post-natal monitoring. It nevertheless denied that any want of care on the part of medical staff had caused the boy’s injuries or that there was any negligence during the ante-natal period.

Following negotiations, however, the trust agreed to pay 80 per cent of the full value of the boy’s damages claim. In approving that sensible compromise, the Court could see that his case had strengths and weaknesses. Pending final assessment of the amount of his compensation, the settlement of liability issues in the case would enable his mother to move forward in the knowledge that very substantial financial support would, in due course, be available to him.

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