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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 December 2007, 14:24 GMT
Meningitis children win damages
Ms Learmont's children arrive at court
Ms Learmont's children raised the court action
A judge has awarded nearly 140,000 in damages to the children of a woman who died from meningitis a day after being seen at an out-of-hours surgery.

Catherine Learmont, 37, died on 26 December 1999 after being told she had a viral infection and sent home.

In his judgment Lord Uist said Dr Fiona Vernon's consultation in Dumfries was "short, cursory and superficial".

At the Court of Session in Edinburgh he ruled her handling of the case had been professionally negligent.

Ms Learmont's daughter Lauren and son Scott raised an action for damages against the doctor claiming their mother's death was caused or contributed to by the general practitioner's fault and negligence.

As Dr Vernon did not refer Mrs Learmont, she was professionally negligent
Lord Uist

Dr Vernon contested liability.

The court heard that Ms Learmont began to feel unwell on Christmas Eve and felt worse the following morning.

In the afternoon she saw Dr Vernon at an out-of-hours surgery in Dumfries before going home.

Her daughter Lauren, of Lorimer Crescent, Dumfries, told the court that she had gone to check on her mother on Boxing Day.

"That's when I found my mum - my mum was dead," she said.

"There was only my mum looked after me.

"We didn't see our dad - my mum was like my mum and dad."

Dr Fiona Vernon
Dr Vernon was ruled to have been professionally negligent

Ms Learmont's cause of death was later established as acute bacterial meningitis.

Lord Uist said in his judgment: "Dr Vernon ought to have suspected meningitis, prescribed an antibiotic blind and referred Ms Learmont to the nearby Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, in which event Mrs Learmont would have survived.

"As Dr Vernon did not refer Ms Learmont, she was professionally negligent."

Lord Uist said Ms Learmont had been a "bright, attractive" woman who was divorced and lived with her son, then aged 17, and her daughter, then aged 14, at the family home.

He said that having considered all the relevant evidence he had come to the view that the doctor was "not an entirely credible and reliable witness in relation to events at the consultation".

Potential emergency

"I gained the clear impression from the evidence that Dr Vernon from the outset approached her dealings with Ms Learmont with a certain attitude, which was that there was nothing seriously wrong with her, other than possibly a viral infection," he said.

The patient was told in a phone call prior to the consultation that she was "quite happy to have a wee look at you" but "be prepared to wait, we'll see you when we can".

The judge said: "The last statement seems to me to indicate that she did not consider Ms Learmont's case was a potential medical emergency and that she should be assessed urgently."

Lord Uist said that after hearing evidence in the case he had concluded that the consultation between the GP and patient lasted about five minutes.

He said: "I have reached the conclusion that the consultation which she had with Ms Learmont was short, cursory and superficial."



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