In March 2015 the Government announced that a deal had been struck with GlaxoSmithKline for the provision of the Bexsero vaccine against Meningitis B. All babies will therefore soon be vaccinated against Meningitis B as part of the national childhood immunisation programme.

Around 3,200 people a year contract bacterial meningitis and associated septicaemia in the UK. For decades, Meningitis B infection has been the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK.

RECOGNISE THE SYMPTOMS

Meningitis B is most common in children under five and a young child with meningitis may display the following symptoms:

  • a high fever, with cold hands and feet
  • vomiting and refusing to feed
  • being agitated and not wanting to be picked up
  • being drowsy, floppy and unresponsive
  • grunting or breathing rapidly
  • an unusual high-pitched or moaning cry
  • pale, blotchy skin and a red rash that doesn't fade when a glass is rolled over it
  • a tense, bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle)
  • a stiff neck and dislike of bright lights
  • convulsions or seizures.

One in 10 cases of meningitis is fatal and there will be long-term problems such as amputation, epilepsy, deafness or acquired brain injury in one in four cases. It is therefore very important to act quickly upon the suspicion of meningitis.

QUICK ACTION NEEDED TO DIAGNOSE AND TREAT

Meningitis usually comes on very quickly and can be confused with flu symptoms. The development or suspicion of meningitis is a medical emergency and urgent treatment will be required in hospital if the meningitis is bacterial. This will be primarily with antibiotics but oxygen therapy, IV fluids (fluids given by a needle going directly into the vein) and steroids may also be required depending on the severity of the condition.

Babies who suffer from neonatal meningitis - that is meningitis that occurs in the first month of life - are most at risk of serious long-term complications such as acquired brain injury.

HIGH AWARDS FOR DAMAGES

Compensation payments relating to delayed or missed diagnoses of meningitis are not uncommon and frequently lead to very high awards for damages as these reflect the seriousness of the injuries that an individual is left with.

Recent reported cases of this nature have resulted in awards for damages between £2-3 million, plus yearly payments of up to £300,000 for life. The cost to the NHS for errors surrounding meningitis care is therefore very high.

It is hoped that the potentially lifesaving Bexsaro vaccine will be introduced from around September 2015 and given to infants at two, four and 12 months of age. A catch up programme will be in place but those children who are over four months old when the vaccine is rolled out are unlikely to receive it on the NHS.

The vaccine can be purchased privately and given by a GP or travel clinic. The NHS recommends that private payment for the vaccine should be around £75 per dose but charges are being levied of up to £135 per dose, making it inaccessible to many.

Given the prevalence of Meningitis B, the introduction of the vaccine should not only mean that lives are saved, but also that a significant amount of money is saved for the NHS in both expensive meningitis treatment and compensation claims arising from errors in meningitis care. 

Helen Hammond, associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, comments: “We very much welcome the introduction of this vaccine but, given that those up to five years of age are the most at risk of contracting Meningitis B, we urge the NHS to consider extending the catch up programme so that all those children under five at the time of its introduction are vaccinated. This move would help to limit the potentially life-shattering consequences of Meningitis B."