The tragic death of a 16-month-old boy, James Philliskirk, in 2022 has led to the Sheffield Children’s Hospital creating a new Sepsis Nurse post to support patients, families and colleagues detecting and treating cases of sepsis as quickly and effectively as possible.
James’s mother, Helen Philliskirk, has assisted Sheffield Childrens Hospital to prevent future child deaths.
In 2022, James Philliskirk sadly died soon after being taken to the Sheffield Children’s Hospital twice, after hospital doctors ignored his parents’ worries that James was suffering from a serious illness. The medical professionals repeatedly dismissed his parents’ concerns and diagnosed his symptoms as chicken pox despite him having chicken pox 3 weeks earlier.
Instead of chicken pox James was actually fighting Sepsis brought on by a severe Group A Strep skin infection. 32 hours after the family’s worries were dismissed by medical professionals, James was found unresponsive at home.
Following a Serious Investigation by Sheffield Children’s Hospital NHS Trust, their report recognised their failings for James and his family. Their action plan named five actions that needed addressing following James’s death. An inquest was carried out in 2023, where the Philliskirk family were assisted by Jenna Kisala, Senior Solicitor at Howells Solicitors and Michael Wall from 33 Bedford Row chambers.
Abigail Combes, Assistant Coroner, wrote a Prevention of Future Deaths report naming a further six actions that need to be addressed by Sheffield Children’s Hospital. This report was published in October 2023.
The jury inquest conclusion read: “Following several assessments in hospital James was misdiagnosed and was not provided with treatment in line with departmental guidance. He developed sepsis and died at home on 13 May 2022. His death was contributed to by neglect. In response, the hospital has appointed Emma Nicholson to oversee training to ensure recognition of sepsis.
Since the incident Helen has worked closely with Sheffield Children’s Hospital and has allowed James’s story to be used at the hospital for training for recognising and treating sepsis. She has also assisted them in appointing a Sepsis Nurse, where she was in attendance during the recruitment process.
Helen and Daniel Philliskirk now work closely with The UK Sepsis Trust to share James’s story to help make other parents aware of the signs of sepsis and to urge healthcare professionals to listen to patient and family voices.
Helen said: “James was a cheeky and self-directed little boy who had a wonderful smile. He had his whole life ahead of him, was an absolute joy to be around and was always full of mischief. He loved climbing, eating peas, Makaton signing ‘no’ and his favourite song was The Conga.
“We tried multiple times to get him the help that he needed but the misdiagnosis, our concerns being disregarded, failings and neglect of the hospital led to his death. It is the most unimaginable pain, but this pain drives us to share James’s story and to critically support Sheffield Children’s Hospital to do better, to ensure this is not the outcome for any other child and their family.
“James loved other babies and children; keeping everyone safe is what he would want which we will do as part of his legacy. We hope that Emma’s role has the intended impact of raising awareness of sepsis and significantly reduces the likelihood of further preventable deaths. We will support in any way we can.”
Helen says, “We hope that Emma’s role has the intended impact of raising awareness of sepsis and significantly reduces the likelihood of further preventable deaths.”
Ms Nicholson has spoken with James’s parents about work that needed to be prioritised to improve the way that the trust dealt with sepsis in the future. She will be introducing new guidelines regarding sepsis to screen patients as quickly as possible and support the introduction of sepsis champions across the wards in the hospital.
Helen said, “For us it’s a positive step forward and we welcome the news that hopefully other babies and children will be safer as part of James’s legacy”.
The UK government committed last year to introducing a new law which will give patients and their families the power to request a clinical review if they feel their concerns are ignored. Martha’s Rule is driven by Merope Mills, the mother of Martha Mills who died aged 13 in 2021.