The National Health Service has seen a rise in litigation costs over the past few years, and NHS organisations are strongly urging the government to step in and take control of the situation. With the UK’s population ageing rapidly and more funding being directed to health care costs than ever before, now is not the time to see such an increase in court cases involving the NHS.

A six-year-old boy who contracted the herpes simplex virus during his birth at Watford General Hospital was recently awarded a record payout of 37 million pounds. Previously, the record payout was around 20 million pounds, making this a significant award that has captured the attention of physicians, barristers and NHS officials throughout the UK.

Neonatal Herpes

The child was diagnosed with neonatal herpes (herpes simplex virus) two days after birth, which unfortunately was not early enough to prevent brain injury. Although neonatal herpes is uncommon in the UK, when it does occur, it can be very serious for a newborn with an underdeveloped immune system if not treated promptly.

A British Medical Journal study indicated that growth restrictions and genetic susceptibility to infection could also contribute to infant brain injuries caused by the herpes virus. For many babies, the virus only affects the eyes, mouth or skin. Antiviral medications are used to treat the virus, and most patients recover completely. In this case, however, the child suffered irreparable brain damage that will require him to have nearly constant care for the remainder of his life.

A Catastrophic Brain Injury

According to a BBC report, the child now experiences eyesight, communication, cognitive, movement and behavioural problems as a result of the virus’ effect on the brain. Had the boy been given antiviral medication shortly after birth, rather than two days later, it is less likely he would have suffered such a fate.

The child will continue to deal with these issues as he grows older, which is one reason why the payout was so high. The family will receive a lump sum plus annual tax-free payments to cover the child’s future healthcare costs.


The West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust apologised to the family early in the litigation process, admitting fault and agreeing, without debate, to settle the case. “The Trust is pleased that the court has now given its approval to the resolution of this case,” the Trust commented. Representatives of the trust also stated they hoped the payout would ensure the boy received proper medical care throughout his lifetime.

Although it may be little comfort to the family of the injured child, the NHS stated that it has learned from this tragedy. The consequences of overlooking something as simple as a herpes test post-birth are simply too high. As the Trust suggests, hopefully, “nothing similar will ever happen again.”