€5.6m for Cork student who had legs amputated after meningitis misdiagnosis

A 15-year old Cork Junior Cert student who had to have both legs amputated below the knee after contracting meningitis when she was three years of age has settled her High Court action for €5.6million, writes Ann O'Loughlin.

When Gemma Hayes was brought to an out of hours hours family doctor service, South Doc, Kinsale Road , Cork vomiting, unwell and with a rash Mr Justice Kevin Cross was told a doctor diagnosed tonsillitis.

Four and a half hours later when her concerned parents returned to South Doc with their three year old daughter the correct diagnosis of meningitis was made and little Gemma was rushed to hospital.

Senior Counsel Dr John O'Mahony said valuable time - four and a half hours -were lost between the tonsillitis diagnosis and the correct diagnosis where the little girl could have gone to hospital and been treated. As a result, Dr O'Mahony said Gemma Hayes suffered profound consequences.

Gemma Hayes' parents.

When she was first examined at 5.01 am on the first visit to South Doc, Counsel said meningitis should have been diagnosed. When Gemma was diagnosed with meningitis and referred to Cork University Hospital, Counsel said the child was in profound distress.

"Four and a half hours were lost when two significant things should have happened . She should have been hospitalised and antibiotics administered," Dr O'Mahony said.

Describing Gemma as a remarkable young woman, Dr O'Mahony said as well as the amputations below the knee on both legs, the young girl in the last twelve years has had 132 operations.

Gemma Hayes, Pic Du Jer Park, Ballinalough, Cork had through her mother Rachel Hayes sued South West Doctors on Call Ltd with offices at Call Centre, St Finians Hospital, Killarney, Co Kerry the provider of an out of hours family doctor service South Doc, Kinsale Road, Cork. She also sued a doctor who worked at South Doc at the time in 2005, Leon Britz who had examined Gemma and diagnosed tonsillitis at 5.01 am on July 10, 2005.

Mr Justice Cross was told liability was conceded in the case but causation remained an issue between the parties.

It was claimed there was an alleged failure to have the necessary skill to provide an appropriate and competent after hours medical service and an alleged failure to provide a service of the standard which it held itself out as providing.

It is also claimed there was a misdiagnosis of Gemma's condition and an alleged failure to properly assess the child's rash in a proper manner including by using a glass.

The Hayes side contended there was a delay in diagnosis and treatment of meningitis which ought to have been made along with appropriate treatment started and the child referred to a hospital when she was first examined by Dr Britz at South Doc at 5am on July 10.

Counsel told the court the evening before Gemma did not eat and in the following hours became drowsy , had a high temperature and started vomiting.

During the night the child also had bouts of severe diarrhoea and at 4am on July 10, it was noted she had a rash on her torso Her parents became very concerned and telephoned the out of hours hours doctor service and gave details of Gemma's symptoms.

They brought their daughter to South Doc where she was examined by Dr Britz.

Dr Britz diagnosed tonsillitis but four hours later at 9am, the child's condition deteriorated, a rash was spreading and had changed to a larger type rash which was darker red in colour.

Gemma's parents immediately drove back to South Doc where an immediate diagnosis of meningitis was made and Gemma was given some medication and referred to Cork University Hospital A&E.

In hospital the child was treated with antibiotics and later transferred to the Childrens' Hospital. Crumlin, where she later had to have the amputations.

Approving the settlement Mr Justice Kevin Cross congratulated Gemma's parents Rachel and Verdun Hayes for the care they have given their daughter and said while what had happened was terrible, it could have been far worse.

Outside court the family in a statement read by their solicitor Colm O'Riain said the settlement funds will be invested with a view to providing Gemma with the care and support she requires.

"It has been a long road to this day and Gemma has displayed great fortitude. She will shortly sit her Junior Cert exams and we wish her well," he said.

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