Premature baby dies a day after being diagnosed with constipation and sent home
9th December 2018

A premature baby died of meningitis within 24 hours of being sent home from hospital after being diagnosed with constipation.

The heartbroken parents of two-month-old Amber Rafferty have accused the NHS of negligence following the infant’s death in May.

Mum Veronica took the tot to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh after she became worried about her daughter’s health.

The 25-year-old left the hospital relieved after being told there was nothing to worry about. But Amber tragically died of meningitis the following day.

Now Veronica and husband Scott have broken their silence after an NHS Lothian internal investigation cleared staff of any wrongdoing, the Daily Record reports.

In a 10-page report, NHS Lothian said they “did not identify modifications of care delivered that could reasonably be expected to have prevented the death”.

But the health board have since introduced changes to how they treat premature babies taken to an accident and emergency department.

Doctors will now be expected to admit them for an overnight assessment – a move the couple believe would have saved Amber’s life.

Veronica, of Leith, said: “I woke up and Amber was in her Moses basket but she wasn’t breathing. I had been taught first-aid because she’s a premature baby so I started doing CPR.

“She was taken away by ambulance and we followed in a police car. It was the worst day of our lives.”

Dad Scott, 33, added: “I was getting ready to go out to work and I heard Veronica screaming. The day before, we were told Amber was constipated but she was dying. She had meningitis and was in the early stages. They didn’t even keep her overnight.

“If she had been, our baby daughter might still be alive.”

Emergency crews managed to resuscitate Amber as they rushed to hospital and she was treated with huge doses of antibiotics.

Doctors battled to save her but the couple were told that Amber’s heart was too weak to survive.

Veronica said: “I couldn’t bring myself to turn off the life support machines. It was so traumatic. I still can’t believe she’s gone.”

The family’s ordeal began on May 1 – just days after Amber was allowed home from hospital. She was born on February 16 at just 28 weeks and weighing just over 3lb.

Argentinian-born Veronica said: “She was so tiny when she was born. But she was breathing fine on her own and she didn’t need oxygen.

“She was our first baby and my only child. My pregnancy was good. I had gestational diabetes but I was feeling well. There was nothing worrying me.

“Then, at 27 weeks and five days, I had some contractions.”

Veronica was admitted to hospital, where she was monitored, and six days later Amber was born.

She said: “She was perfect. She had to spend time in the neonatal unit but she was a fighter.

“I’d get the bus in every day to see her and care for her. She was doing really well and was putting on weight.”

Amber was allowed home on April 21, weighing a healthy 8lb. But, nine days later, Veronica noticed Amber had been irritable and constipated. After two days, she called NHS 24, who advised her to see her GP.

She said: “I took Amber to the doctor at 8.30am but they told me the next available appointment was 11.40am.

“I was advised if I felt it was an emergency to take her to A&E. So I did.”

Amber was assessed by a nurse, who was concerned about the baby’s fast heart rate.

Veronica has claimed the hospital doctor could not access Amber’s neonatal notes and she had to relay her daughter’s medical history verbally.

She added: “The nurse said she thought Amber had tachycardia and we were waiting to see a doctor.

“I explained to the doctor that she wasn’t well and I was worried about her not having any bowel movements.

“He assessed her and saw a spot on her chest and asked how long it had been there. I said I’d never seen it before.

“Her heart rate was still up and they asked me to try a feed. She took a feed and had a bowel movement.

“They told me Amber was fine, that it was better to be safe than sorry. I trusted them and she had started to settle down. The doctor assured me her heart rate had been high as she was unsettled.”

Veronica was later informed by NHS Lothian that doctors had discussed the possibility of an infection but a decision was made not to test Amber.

She said: “I’m not a doctor but if they had said to me there might be an infection, I would’ve said I wanted her tested. I didn’t know until it was too late.”

Veronica and Scott got married in May 2017 and discovered she was pregnant a few months later.

But the death of their daughter has turned the couple’s lives upside down.

She said: “Amber’s death has put a strain on our relationship. We are trying to work through it but we don’t live in the same house any more. It has been a nightmare. I can’t put into words how awful it feels.”

Scott added that the couple had contacted solicitors to discuss starting legal action against NHS Lothian.

He said: “It’s difficult. They did say sorry to us and they agree they could have done more but it’s not good enough.

“NHS Lothian had their investigation and have come to a conclusion that they’ve done nothing wrong. I completely disagree. I just want to save another family the heartbreak of losing a child due to negligence.”

NHS Lothian said they have introduced changes since Amber’s death, including admitting premature babies with a suspected infection and providing A&E staff with access to neonatal notes.

Tracey Gillies, medical director of NHS Lothian, said: “The death of a child is tragic and I offer my sincere condolences to the family of Amber Rafferty.

“Following a full investigation, which concluded that appropriate care was provided, members of our senior clinical team met with the family and a follow-up meeting has been offered.”

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