4 April 2023

UPDATE: Government apologises over child's life-changing infections at Canberra Hospital

| Albert McKnight
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outside view of Canberra hospital emergency department

A former child patient of the Canberra Hospital has been awarded almost $7.5 million after they contracted life-changing infections at the hospital. Photo: File.

UPDATE, 5.30 pm: The ACT Government has apologised to a child who suffered life-changing infections while at the Canberra Hospital and said it hopes the almost $7.5million settlement paid to the former patient “in some way provides some closure”.

“Canberra Health Services sincerely apologises to the plaintiff and their family that our care was not of the standard we would expect,” a Canberra Health Services spokesperson said.

“We acknowledge the profound and lasting effect on their life and the hurt and pain this has caused.”

The spokesperson said, regrettably, adverse events occurred from time to time in the health services, but these represented “a very small percentage of cases” and every opportunity was taken to ensure system improvements could be identified and implemented.

“There has been considerable work undertaken across Canberra Health Services over the last decade to continually improve the quality of clinical services provided to our community,” the spokesperson said.

“This includes ensuring robust procedures are in place to recognise and respond to early signs of patient deterioration and escalation protocols.”

TUESDAY: A claim of medical negligence at the Canberra Hospital has resulted in the ACT Government paying almost $7.5 million to a child who was left with life-changing infections.

The “harrowing events” that gave rise to the litigation occurred in 2006, Acting Justice Verity William said in her recent ACT Supreme Court decision.

She said that year, a three-month-old child had contracted two infections “which changed his life course”.

The infections were pneumococcal meningitis, being an infection of the brain lining and spinal cord that can result in death or long-term complications, and septicaemia, which is blood poisoning caused by a bacteria.

Acting Justice McWilliam said the civil claim was about the diagnosis and treatment of the illness following the child’s presentation to the hospital in 2006.

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“A breach of duty of care was admitted in respect of certain conduct pleaded, but liability overall was denied,” she said.

“The assessment of the child’s development and disabilities was deferred until the child’s late teens.”

The claim was before the Supreme Court as the child, who is now 17, asked it to approve the settlement reached between the parties.

As the parties had seen how he developed over the years, a compromise had been reached on an agreed amount of $7,350,000 plus costs.

“The plaintiff and his parents have been dealing with the consequences of the events in 2006 for 17 years,” Acting Justice McWilliam said.

“They will continue to do so for the rest of the plaintiff’s life and the quantum of the settlement reflects that reality.”

She said this litigation initially began in 2008 and without the compromise between parties, a hearing would have taken multiple weeks.

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“The plaintiff and his parents have had this litigation in their lives since that time,” she said.

“The proposed settlement provides certainty and finality and in doing so, relieves one of the burdens faced by the plaintiff and his family.”

She was satisfied the settlement was “overwhelmingly in the plaintiff’s interest”.

The acting justice approved the $7.35 million plus costs to be paid to the child’s trustee.

Canberra Health Services has been contacted for comment.

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