Parents to sue hospital over little girl’s death

Oli, Debbie and Willow Kemp
Oli, Debbie and Willow Kemp
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The anguished parents of a baby girl who died at a children’s hospital are planning to sue the health trust.

Willow Kemp was 20 months old when she died following a ‘textbook’ operation at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

The tot, who had a number of complex health issues, suffered a heart attack after being given an overdose of potassium. The hospital trust has admitted liability and an inquest into Willow’s death saw it criticised by the coroner for its failings.

Today dad Oli, who lived in Bamber Bridge before moving to north Wales this summer, said he and his wife Debbie still have so many unanswered questions over their daughter’s care.

Their legal costs have run into thousands of pounds and Oli said the family has never had an apology from the hospital.

Oli, 33, said: “Our biggest thing right now is the legal action side of it. In order to represent ourselves properly we had to get a barrister and a solicitor.

“And what happened was about eight weeks ago, Hempsons, who represented the trust sent a letter admitting civil liability.

“With that they sent us an offer which was an insult to be honest. They said they wouldn’t pay our representation costs.

“We feel really angry about that. They have got off paying this, even though a) they admitted liability and b) the coroner found serious failings.

“Suing the NHS is quite divisive. The only reason we are suing is because we have got to pay for our legal costs and actually it’s not about the money – nothing will pay for Willow – but after what they have put us through the only way to hit them is in the pocket.”

Willow was born at 29 weeks. She suffered from a number of natural conditions including an unbalanced translocation of chromosomes, severe gastro oesophageal reflux disease, right hydronephrosis and left ureteric reflux, renal tubular acidosis as well as a chronic electrolyte imbalance of sodium, magnesium and potassium.

The operation she underwent on June 27, 2012, was the closure of a jejunostomy, fundoplacation and insertion of gastrostomy and a central line.

It was a routine operation and the family had been told it went well. But Oli recalls that the next day he was concerned about Willow’s ECG screen.

He said: “I had noticed that the ECG machine was acting funny, not the way we were used to seeing it. It was like that for some while, it could have been a good 10 minutes.

“The consultant came in to look at her charts and I said it didn’t look right. He looked at her and said she looked peaky and asked if we could put her on the bed.

“The alarm sounded, everyone came rushing in. It was at least 40 minutes of them trying to resuscitate Willow, different people trying heart massage – I could see this from outside the room.

“A nurse who had been caring for Willow, she kept coming out to update us, even she came out looking very upset and said ‘I don’t think there’s any going back’.

“Debbie was eight months pregnant. She was weeks from giving birth. We walked in and they were all looking very very sad and upset. No one had expected it.

“I said to the consultant, ‘How the hell could this have happened?’

“There’s some really good people we did come into contact with, people who loved Willow and cared for Willow.”

The inquest was told Willow has been given an ‘extraordinary high’ dose of potassium and nurses failed to monitor her potassium blood levels.

A nurse looking after Willow didn’t check her potassium levels for almost four hours, the inquest heard.

The coroner gave a narrative verdict, concluding: “There was a failure to consider and plan how such significant dosages of potassium should be monitored and the response to any significantly rising levels was to be managed.

“There was a serious failure to fully appreciate the significance and risks associated with a recorded potassium level of 5.7 at 16.51 hours and note the increase over a period of some hours, urgently escalate a review and the seeking of consultant advice as well as pausing the infusion. This made a material contribution to the death.”

The medical cause of death was listed as acute broncho pneumonia and hyperkalemia (a high potassium concentration).

The family say they still have many unanswered questions and they believe if Willow’s potassium had been checked at a certain time she wouldn’t have suffered a cardiac arrest.

They also said they were never told they could have had an independent autopsy by the hospital and if they had known, they would have.

He added: “We have a lot of questions about her care in general, not just that day.”

Oli, who is a radio DJ, said of Willow: “She was thriving. She did brilliant at home. She liked going for walks – one of the places we took her was Beacon Fell.”

At the end of last year the family, including daughter Delilah, planted a tree there in her memory.

Oli added: “The first year, 18 months, of Delilah’s life are a complete blur. It was the time we were suppose to make those memories. It was a strange set of circumstances.

“They say it makes you stronger and for us it has brought us closer together.

“We are trying to move forward the best we can without Willow in our lives. It’s very hard – hard doesn’t even cut the mustard. There are no words to describe losing a child.

“It has been a very isolated experience as well. We didn’t really need to move from Preston but where we are now is right in the middle of nowhere, it is isolated and that is how we feel.”

A hospital trust spokesman said the head doctor at the Children’s Hospital apologised to the family in person at a meeting and that an apology in writing is due to go out to the family shortly.

The Trust said it would not be appropriate to comment on the family’s plan to sue.

In a statement, the hospital said: “We recognise that whilst Willow was a child with extremely complex health needs, we have previously admitted that there were shortcomings in the care provided in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit on this occasion, which fell below the standards we would wish to provide to all our patients.

“A full investigation was carried out and an action plan was developed and implemented which was shared with the family.

“We have apologised to the family and are deeply sorry for the distress this has caused them.”