The mother of Martha Mills, who died of sepsis aged 13 after doctors failed to admit her to intensive care, has welcomed a new NHS paediatric scoring system – but says it won’t help remedy ‘deep cultural issues and biases’ in the UK’s current healthcare system.
This week, the NHS revealed it is adopting the National Paediatric Early Warning Score (PEWS) to track the vital signs of babies and children receiving hospital care – and hopes to implement it nationwide by the end of 2024.
The change in national policy is the first step towards a ‘Martha’s Rule’ – a formalised right to a second opinion on patient care – which Martha’s mother, Merope Mills and her husband have fought for since her death in August 2021.
This morning, Merope Mills, who is the editor of the Guardian’s Saturday magazine, posted this morning that while the PEWS system is a positive step, there are other challenges the NHS is facing that it won’t fix.
In 2022, a coroner ruled that Martha Mills’ death, in August 2021, could have been prevented if she’d have been transferred to intensive care earlier by the team caring for her. This week, the NHS announced plans to roll out a standardised paediatric scoring system to help prevent similar tragedies
She wrote on X: ‘A national system that helps spot serious illness in children and gives extra weight to parental concern is welcome.
‘But a score alone can’t reverse deep cultural issues and biases – which is why #MarthasRule, which puts power in patients hands, is necessary.’
The NHS says the new scoring system will now guarantee that doctors will act on the concerns of parents who fear their children are becoming seriously ill while in hospital.
Healthcare workers using the PEWS system will track measurements such as heart rate, oxygen levels, blood pressure and levels of consciousness to closely monitor a potential decline in young patients.
Even if such measurements don’t raise concerns with doctors and nurses, parents who believe their child is deteriorating can ensure their case is escalated immediately.
Variations of the system are already in place in many UK hospitals but PEWS aims to standardise the process across all hospitals.
Martha with her mother Merope in California in 2016. Her parents have campaigned tirelessly since her death for the NHS to implement Martha’s Rule, which would formalise the right to a second opinion to be sought from an external medical team if people are dissatisfied with hospital care
Martha Mills suffered a pancreatic injury in August 2021 after a cycling accident during a family holiday in Wales.
After being assessed by a local A&E department, she was helicoptered to King’s College Hospital, in South London, one of three national centres of expertise for treating pancreatic trauma.
The teenager, a few days from her 14th birthday, died on August 30th after developing sepsis while under the care of doctors at the NHS Foundation Trust. Her parents had continuously raised concerns about her deteriorating condition.
No child at King’s College Hospital has previously died of the injury Martha had.
A coroner ruled last year that Martha would most likely have survived if doctors had identified warning signs and transferred her to intensive care earlier.
Her parents described her at the inquest as ‘a fun, singular, very intelligent girl, who had such an appetite for life and all its opportunities.’
The trust has since apologised for mistakes.
Speaking on the Today programme in September, Mills said she wanted ‘patients to have more power when they are in hospital’
Parents who fear their children are becoming seriously ill in hospital are now guaranteed that doctors will act on their concerns – but Martha’s mother says she has concerns that other factors including ‘deep cultural issues and biases’ can’t be resolved by the PEWS system (Pictured at the Woman of the Year Awards 2023 in October)
Writing for the Daily Mail in September, Merope said she was fighting for the introduction of Martha’s Rule ‘in the hope that no other family has to go through such horror.’
The rule would formalise the right to seek a second opinion – by a different medical team – over NHS care being given.
She said: ‘There needs to be more patient power. I knew so much about Martha’s changing condition. Had I been listened to by the doctors, I could well have saved Martha’s life.
‘This is why I am calling for ‘Martha’s Rule’, which formalises the right to an urgent second opinion if a patient or family member feels that a deterioration isn’t being addressed on a hospital ward.’
NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis (pictured) said the NHS also hoped to give concerned parents a right to a second opinion on their child’s condition as part of the new policy
Speaking about the introduction of PEWS in the nation’s hospitals this week, NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said the NHS also hoped to give concerned parents a right to a second opinion on their child’s condition as part of the new policy.
He added: ‘We know that nobody can spot the signs of a child getting sicker better than their parents, which is why we have ensured that the concerns of families and carers are right at the heart of this new system with immediate escalation in a child’s care if they raise concerns, and plans to incorporate the right to a second opinion as the system develops further.’
Health minister Maria Caulfield said: ‘It will be reassuring to families that as part of this system, parents will be heard.’
The PEWS policy is likely to be implemented across hospitals before the end of 2024.