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Stephen was 24 years old and had a past history of hydrocephalus following neonatal intraventricular haemorrhage, and had a shunt and regular neurosurgical follow-ups.

In February 2016, Stephen went to hospital with headaches and vomiting. At this stage, it was questioned whether the shunt had become blocked and it was planned for him to have surgery the next day. Stephen developed worsening headaches, vomiting, neck stiffness, photophobia and raised intracranial pressure caused by swelling of the brain and increased fluid in the skull.

It is well known that lumbar puncture should not be done when a patient has raised intracranial pressure. However, due to an alleged “miscommunication” between the doctors, this was done. This caused a bleed from Stephen’s brain stem, which then caused a respiratory arrest, in the presence of his parents. The respiratory arrest caused severe brain damage and Stephen died a few days later.

The case was reviewed at an Inquest and the Coroner found that the decision to perform the lumbar puncture contributed to Stephen’s death. A claim for his death was settled shortly thereafter.

Sadly, Stephen’s parents had sustained considerable psychiatric injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, having witnessed his respiratory arrest.

The hospital trust admitted negligence in performing the lumbar puncture but denied that Stephen’s parents were entitled to any compensation for their psychiatric injuries. The law in this area is very complex but after further discussions and persuasion, the hospital trust accepted the Claimants’ position and made substantial offers of compensation, which were accepted.

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Richard Starkie is a Partner at Pryers Solicitors with a great knowledge of medicine, equipping him to ask insightful questions of experts, as acknowledged by this years @ChambersGuides

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