Coroner returns verdict of Medical Misadventure at inquest into the death of a 10-year-old girl from Cork who died after doctors failed to diagnose Strep A

Written by
Rachael O’Shaughnessy on
03 April 2023

On Valentine’s Day 2019, ten year old, Vivienne Murphy from Mill Street, Cork complained of a sore throat, raised temperature, rash, aches and pains. Her parents were told to alternate between giving Calpol and Nurofen on the advice of South Doc, but they failed to spot that she was suffering from Streptococcus – a bacterial infection that has experienced a recent surge in Ireland.

Vivienne’s parents, Elizabeth and Dermot Murphy, brought her to South Doc, an out of hours surgery, and then to her family GP three times between 14 February and 18 February with deteriorating symptoms. They were sent home with their sick daughter on each occasion without a prescription for antibiotics or a referral to hospital. On 18 February 2019, Vivienne was carried to the doctor’s surgery by her mother as she was in too much pain to walk. 

Vivienne’s parents advocated strongly for their young daughter but despite expressing the deepest concerns about the persistence and progression of her symptoms they were reassured by doctors that their daughter was suffering with nothing more than a virus. 

Vivienne’s parents took it upon themselves to go with their gut and bring her to A&E at Cork University Hospital around midnight on 19/20 February 2019 where it was recognised that their daughter had signs of sepsis.  They believe that valuable time was also lost in administering treatment in CUH.

The Coroner's court heard evidence that there is no paediatric ICU in Cork and a decision was made to transfer Vivienne to Temple Street Children’s Hospital, Dublin.

Ultimately, following extensive debridement surgery and subsequent complications Vivienne tragically died nine days later surrounded by her family.

The Coroner’s Court heard that Strep A can prove fatal when left untreated.

The Murphy family were emotional and stoic as they listened to and gave evidence over two days at the Dublin District Coroner’s Court in Store Street.

The court heard that their daughter was a happy and healthy little girl who had no other relevant health issues of note. On 14th February 2019 Vivienne went to school as normal but unbeknownst to her and her family and classmates it would be her last day at school.

What Vivienne’s family now know is that Vivenne was suffering from Group A Streptococcus infection which would fail to resolve without antibiotics.

Recording a verdict of death by medical misadventure, coroner Dr Crona Gallagher noted that this was an extremely complex medical case of sepsis and welcomed any efforts to increase awareness in relation to Strep A.  She promised to send the findings to the relevant group of medical bodies and to draw their attention to the need for a paediatric ICU in Cork and to the transport issues involved in travelling to Dublin for ICU care. 

The Coroner considered the submissions made by Abdulla Morgan Kamber BL instructed by Rachael O’Shaughnessy, Partner with HOMS Assist, who represented the Murphy family in reaching her verdict of medical misadventure. 

Rachael O’Shaughnessy, Partner with HOMS Assist, said that "lessons must be learned in relation to the identification and treatment of Strep A and highlighted the need for a paediatric ICU outside of Dublin". 

“Elizabeth and Dermot Murphy and their eldest daughter, Caroline, and son, Steven, do not want any other family to live the nightmare that they have been living and with which they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. The Murphy family wish to thank the Coroner’s Court for its time and welcome the Coroner’s findings but are also aware there is no assurance that the recommendations will be implemented. The Murphy family have suffered immeasurable grief and heartbreak from the loss of their beautiful daughter Vivienne and hope that today’s recommendations could prevent this unnecessary tragedy from happening to another family.”