The parents of Martha Mills say her death was caused by a toxic workplace culture in the NHS. They are campaigning to introduce procedures for families to ask for a second medical opinion when they have concerns about the current care they’re receiving.
In the summer of 2021,13-year-old Martha Mills was on a family holiday in Snowdonia.
“We were cycling on a flat, family friendly, car free bike path in Wales. You couldn’t imagine a more, a less dangerous activity.”
That’s Martha’s mother, Merope. She spoke to Mishal Husain for BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme about her daughter…
“Martha was cycling slowly, but she hit a patch of sand because it was near a beach and the handlebars of her bike twisted as she fell at first we thought she was just winded.”
What Martha’s parents didn’t know at the time was the force of the handlebar pushed her pancreas against her spine. The injury was severe.
After a visit to A&E, Martha was flown by helicopter to a specialist centre at King’s College Hospital in London.
“It seemed a great place to be: it was well staffed, it was well funded. We were constantly told we were in the best place and there was no reason to think otherwise because in 20 years of, of treating children for this injury, no child had ever died.”
But at the end of the summer, after weeks in hospital and just days before her 14th birthday, Martha died from sepsis.
Sepsis is a complication that causes the body’s immune system to over-respond to an infection. As a result, the immune system ends up attacking its own tissues and organs.
Last year an inquest into Martha’s death heard that she probably would have survived if doctors had moved her to intensive care sooner.
During her Radio 4 interview, Merope explained why this didn’t happen… even though Martha was bleeding through her bedsheets, a sign of sepsis doctors should have recognised.
“We found out later that the nurses wrote in their own system that Martha was at risk of death. Then seven days before she died, the doctors never looked at the nurses system.”
Merope Mills wants the NHS to introduce what she’s calling Martha’s rule.
Under Martha’s rule, patients and their loved ones would have the automatic right to seek an urgent second medical opinion on hospital care if they have concerns.
In other words, a doctor not involved in the patient’s care could be called upon and consulted by a patient, their family or their carer. A similar system is already in place in the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust and analysis there shows it does improve patient safety.
Martha’s rule was developed by Martha’s parents along with the think tank Demos, and Tortoise contributed to the costs of the research.