02.03.2024

Grieving parents issue warning over ‘silent killer’ meningitis after death of their daughter

A grieving couple have urged parents to be vigilant of the signs of meningitis after their daughter died from the ‘silent killer’. Annalise Luffingham, from Addiscombe in south London, was admitted to A&E in February 2020 after suffering from a fever, confusion and vomiting — tell-tale signs of the bacterial infection, which can lead to life-threatening sepsis.

NHS medics failed to correctly test whether Annalise, known as Annie, could have sepsis, and took seven hours to give her vital antibiotics, a report into her care found.

Annie, described as ‘wonderful’ by loved ones, died the following day in hospital.

Now, her parents, who have received an undisclosed compensation from the health service, are urging others to be alert to the dangers of meningitis and the need for early detection.

The couple said their pain over their daughter’s death is ‘as raw as it was the day she died’ and they hope her story can prevent others from suffering.

Annalise Luffingham, from Addiscombe in south London, was admitted to A&E in February 2020 after suffering from a fever, confusion and vomiting — tell-tale signs of the bacterial infection, which can lead to life-threatening sepsis

But NHS medics failed to correctly test whether Annalise, known as Annie, could have sepsis, and took seven hours to give her vital antibiotics, a report into her care found. She died the following day in hospital

But NHS medics failed to correctly test whether Annalise, known as Annie, could have sepsis, and took seven hours to give her vital antibiotics, a report into her care found. She died the following day in hospital

Annie, who had previously been fit and healthy, arrived at children’s A&E at Croydon University Hospital at about 10am on February 11, 2020.

The 11-year-old, who was a keen footballer and horse rider, had been suffering for around a week with symptoms including dizziness vomiting, confusion, a high temperature, headache and eye pain.

During an initial assessment, tests for sepsis were completed. These usually include checking temperature, heart rate, breathing rate and a blood test.

However, a report by Croydon Health Services NHS Trust — which spotted 11 problems with the care Annie received — found that these tests were completed incorrectly.

Staff failed to spot that Annie’s breathing rate was high or consider that she may have sepsis, it concluded.

Shortly afterwards, Annie, who attended Royal Russell School in Croydon, which charges up to £15,000 per year, was transferred to a team within the main A&E department, then to a paediatrics team at around 12.45pm.

Following more tests, Annie was given ibuprofen and paracetamol. At 4pm a consultant prescribed antibiotics which were administered around half an hour later.

But Annie, who aspired to be a vet, suffered a cardiac arrest at around 5.50pm. She was resuscitated and transferred to another hospital but died the following day.

An inquest in 2021 concluded that Annie died from sepsis caused by meningitis and that it was as a result of natural causes contributed to by neglect.

The report into her care found that, if tests had been completed correctly, Annie would have been transferred to a specialist paediatric team and should have started receiving intravenous antibiotics within an hour.

It made 17 recommendations to improve care, including staff training for managing sepsis and meningitis.

Her mother Tracey Shephard, 51, said: ‘Annie was the most wonderful daughter we could have ever wished for.

‘She was bright, intelligent, articulate but also sporty and caring. She was mature for her years and wanted to be the best person she could be.

‘Even more than three years on, the hurt and pain we feel over her death is still as raw as it was the day she died.

‘Our lives will never be the same without her. It’s devastating that she’ll never grow up and fulfil the potential she had.’

Now, her parents, who have received an undisclosed compensation from the health service, are urging others to be alert to the dangers of meningitis and the need for early detection

The couple said their pain over their daughter’s death is ‘as raw as it was the day she died’ and they hope her story can prevent others from suffering

Annie, who had previously been fit and healthy, arrived at children’s A&E at Croydon University Hospital at about 10am on February 11, 2020

Sepsis is life-threatening but if caught early it is treatable. Children with sepsis can have breathing difficulties, fits, be lethargic, have a rash that does not fade when you put  a glass to it and babies can struggle to feed

Sepsis is life-threatening but if caught early it is treatable. Children with sepsis can have breathing difficulties, fits, be lethargic, have a rash that does not fade when you put  a glass to it and babies can struggle to feed

Following Annie’s death her parents were also supported by Meningitis Now, with friends and family raising thousands of pounds for the charity.

Her father David Luffingham, 51, added: ‘When Annie continued to deteriorate we thought the best place for her would be in hospital as we thought she would receive what care she needed to recover.

‘That didn’t happen, and we now face a life without Annie. Although she was very poorly it remains hard not to think that when Annie needed help she was badly let down.

‘We continue to be touched by the care and support we’ve received and how people have raised money in Annie’s memory.

‘Nothing will ever fill the void we have in our lives left by Annie’s death but we’ll continue to raise awareness of how important it is people are aware of meningitis and the need to seek medical advice as soon as possible.

The 11-year-old, who was a keen footballer and horse rider, had been suffering from dizziness vomiting, confusion, a high temperature, headache and eye pain

‘It’s too late for Annie but we just hope that we can help others from going through what we have.’

Following Annie’s death, her parents instructed medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate her care.

The couple secured an undisclosed settlement from the Trust in connection with Annie’s death and the trauma they’ve gone through.

The Trust admitted liability for Annie’s death and apologised to David and Tracey.

In a letter to the couple, the Trust accepted ‘that the treatment provided to Annalise by the Trust fell below the standard of care she was entitled to expect and, in particular, that there were failures to recognise the severity of Annalise’s illness resulting in delays in providing appropriate treatment’.

The Trust expressed ‘very real regret’ that ‘opportunities were missed to prevent her death.’

As part of the settlement agreement, the Trust agreed to provide responses to questions asked by the family regarding lessons learnt following the investigation.

Dami Oloyede, a litigation assistant at the firm, said: ‘Annie was a talented and academically gifted girl who had her whole life ahead of her.

‘Understandably David and Tracey remain devastated by the events that unfolded and her subsequent death.’

She added: ‘Sadly, through our work we often see the devastating consequences that families can be left to face because of delayed diagnosis and treatment of serious medical conditions such as meningitis.

‘We join Tracey and David in raising awareness of the signs of meningitis and how early detection and treatment is key to beating it.’

Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Babies, young children, teens and young adults are most at risk.

Before the Covid pandemic, charities estimated there were around 8,000 cases in the UK per year.

A fever, being sick, a headache and a rash that does not fade when a glass is rolled over it are key signs of the infection. A stiff neck, drowsiness and seizures are other tell-tale signs.

If it is not treated quickly, the infection can lead to sepsis — the body’s life-threatening reaction to an infection.

It occurs when the immune system overreacts and starts to damage the body’s tissues and organs. Patients suffering from sepsis should be given antibiotics within an hour of arriving to hospital.

Septic shock can occur in those not treated quickly, which can lead to organ failure and death.

What are the key symptoms of sepsis? The ‘silent killer’ that can cause death in minutes

Sepsis, known as the ‘silent killer’, strikes when an infection such as blood poisoning sparks a violent immune response in which the body attacks its own organs.

It is a potentially life-threatening condition, triggered by an infection or injury.  Around 245,000 people develop sepsis in the UK each year and 52,000 die, according to the UK Sepsis Trust.

Instead of attacking the invading bug, the body turns on itself, shutting down vital organs.

If caught early enough, it’s easily treated with intravenous antibiotics and fluids, but these must be given as soon as sepsis is suspected — it strikes with frightening speed and, for every hour of delay, a patient’s chance of dying increases 8 per cent.

Sepsis is a leading cause of avoidable death killing 44,000 people each year

Sepsis is a leading cause of avoidable death killing 44,000 people each year

The early symptoms of sepsis can be easily confused with more mild conditions, meaning it can be difficult to diagnose.

A high temperature (fever), chills and shivering, a fast heartbeat and rapid breathing are also indicators.

A patient can rapidly deteriorate if sepsis is missed early on, so quick diagnosis and treatment is vital – yet this rarely happens.

In the early stages, sepsis can be mistaken for a chest infection, flu or upset stomach.

It is most common and dangerous in older adults, pregnant women, children younger than one, people with chronic conditions or those who have weakened immune systems.

The six signs of something potentially deadly can be identified by the acronym ‘SEPSIS’:

  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine in a day
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Skin that’s mottled or discoloured

Anyone who develops any of these symptoms should seek medical help urgently — and ask doctors: ‘Could this be sepsis?’

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