Health law backed by sister of Billericay sepsis victim who died after garden scratch

The sister of a woman who died from a silent killer after scratching her hand while gardening has backed a campaign fighting for the right second health opinion when families think things are going wrong.

Lucy Smith from Billericay, died of Sepsis in 2016 at the age of 45 – just days after a scratch on the back of her hand she got from gardening started to make her feel ill.

It was the same killer that took the life of 13-year-old Martha Mills who developed sepsis following complications when her abdomen took the full brunt of her fall onto the handlebars of her bike.

The concerns of her parents Merope and Paul were repeatedly ignored by doctors, with a report into her death later finding it could have been prevented.

Now her mum is campaigning to create Martha’s Rule, which would give patients and families the right to a second opinion from other medics in the hospital if they are concerned about the treatment being given.

That campaign has been backed by Lucy’s sister, Caroline Mackim who says it represents “a big step in the right direction for families and patients who feel worried that they are not receiving the correct treatment.”

The death of Lucy, who leaves two children, shows how important the condition is treated early.

Lucy, who attended Ingrave Johnson Primary School in Brentwood before going on to St Martin’s in Hutton, initially had a small cut on the back of her hand which the family think had been caused by gardening. It hadn’t healed and she had knocked it a few times but thought nothing of it a week later.

Timeline of the days before Lucy’s death

Friday, March 27 2015

Lucy Smith went to see her GP complaining of pain in her shoulder.

The medic she saw diagnosed a trapped nerve in her shoulder and prescribed antidepressants. She was told to see a chiropractor who she visited that afternoon. She was given acupuncture and sent home, even though at that point Lucy was vomiting and in a great deal of pain.

Monday, March 30 2015

Lucy’s fingers and arm had become very red and swollen, she was still vomiting and by this time in terrible pain. She returned to her GP who diagnosed a possible blood clot and told her to go to A&E.

A&E at Basildon Hospital gave her a simple blood test straight away and 30 minutes later she was diagnosed with Sepsis and placed on intravenous antibiotics.

At this point, the family all assumed that she would recover.

Tuesday, March 31

Lucy was moved from a general ward to a critical care ward and continued with an increased dose of antibiotics.

Wednesday, April 1

Early in the afternoon, Lucy was placed on a ventilator to assist with breathing.

Unbeknown to the family at this point her internal organs were beginning to shut down as her body attacked itself.

Late that night she suffered cardiovascular, renal and respiratory failure and died.

Martha’s Rule

Her sister Caroline said: “Losing my sister, Lucy, at the age of 45 was incredibly hard for our family, it all happened so quickly, over just a few days. The surgeon kept telling us that Lucy was young and strong and he saw no reason why she shouldn’t make a full recovery, so you can imagine how shocked we were when she died the following day.

“I think there can be no doubt, looking back that if we ever had to go through this again, we would almost certainly deal with things differently, ask more questions and not just assume that everything possible was being done.”

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs. Every year in the UK there are 150,000 cases of Sepsis, resulting in around 44,000 deaths – more than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said he will consider calls for the introduction of Martha’s Rule. He told the House of Commons Martha’s Rule would be similar to the Queensland system called ‘Ryan’s Rule’ – a three-step process that allows patients or their families to review a clinical review of their case from a doctor or a nurse if their condition is deteriorating or not improving as expected.

Caroline added: “I can connect with Martha’s mother when she speaks about, questioning senior medics, it can be daunting, they can appear to be rather dismissive and you almost don’t want to take up too much of their time because of the important job they are doing, however, doctors should listen to concerned relatives who know the patient better than anyone and can have valuable input.

“Whether or not Martha’s rule would have had any bearing on Lucy’s outcome, I don’t know, however, I think the message here is very clear. As a patient or a family member, you should always have the opportunity to speak and be heard, and never feel worried, or unable to ask for a second opinion. If something doesn’t feel right, or you feel that you’re not being listened to, or perhaps you’re not getting the correct information, then your wishes for a second medical opinion should always be respected.

“I fully back this as an initiative, it’s a big step in the right direction for families and patients who feel worried that they are not receiving the correct treatment. In formalising Martha’s Rule as a right, people will be encouraged to speak up, people who might not have previously had the confidence to do so, and that has to be good thing.”


Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter