Martha’s law: a demand to protect children from the NHS

The mother of a 13-year-old girl who tragically lost her life due to treatment failures has released a new report calling for a new policy in England.

In partnership with the thinktank Demos, Merope Mills, the mother of Martha Mills who died in 2021 after health experts failed to identify and treat a case of sepsis that developed while she was in Kings College hospital in London, has released a new report demanding major changes to our health system.

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Known as ‘Martha’s Law’, Merope Mills is campaigning to help patients who believe their concerns aren’t being taken seriously by medical staff should be given the right to seek an urgent second opinion.

Speaking to the BBC, Merope Mills said parents instigating the process themselves ‘shouldn’t be a problem and it shouldn’t involve confrontation’ – and that such systems already exist in other countries.

An example of this is ‘Ryan’s Rule’ in Australia which helps parents and carers alert doctors to a patient’s worsening condition.

In 2022, a coroner ruled that Martha would have survived if doctors had identified the warning signs and transferred her to intensive care earlier. The young girl suffered a laceration to her pancreas in what initially appeared to be a minor accident while cycling.

Martha was transferred to the hospital in South London as it is one of three national centres for the care of children with pancreatic trauma, although her condition was not thought to be life threatening. In a horrific turn of events, Martha developed sepsis. Her parents expressed serious concerns that their daughter’s health was deteriorating, but doctors failed to acknowledge these. It wasn’t until Martha’s condition worsened that nurses privately stated she could be at risk of death.

Merope Mills, a senior editor at the Guardian, said: ‘Even if you were to give doctors the benefit of the doubt and say they were trying not to worry us, the result is that they did not give us any agency in demanding the correct treatment for our daughter – and that control, that overconfidence in yourself and your decision making – is absolutely fine if the system works perfectly, but the system is so far from perfect.’

Against this backdrop, the Demos report outlined NHS England should introduce a system allowing parents to easily call for a second opinion and have claimed it could be modelled on the Call 4 Concern system that has already been adopted in several UK hospitals.

‘All patients and families are able to seek a second opinion if they have concerns about their care,’ An NHS spokesperson told the BBC. ‘It is essential that any patient’s wishes to seek a second opinion are respected.’

Image: Nick Fewings

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