A 20-year-old university student was left with significant hearing loss, arthritis, daily headaches, extreme fatigue, memory impairment and concentration problems after a doctor and nurses failed to diagnose her with bacterial meningitis.

Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill has reprimanded a doctor and nurse for their care of the woman.

The student went to the university's health clinic after having a sore throat and tiredness for two days. A nurse took a throat swab but it came back clear so she gave her advice on how to manage the pain.

The next day the student was feeling worse so phoned the health service and talked to a nurse who booked an appointment with the doctor that afternoon.


The student cancelled the appointment because she felt too sick to go but her boyfriend rang a third nurse and said she was too sick to swallow or get out of bed. A new appointment was made and she went to the doctor that afternoon.

The doctor prescribed pain relief and anti-nausea medication saying she had a flu-like illness.

The woman continued to get sicker and the next afternoon her flatmate called and spoke to a fourth nurse who made another appointment at the clinic and told her flatmate to call an ambulance if they couldn't get her to come.

Before leaving to go to the appointment the student collapsed, became drowsy and was unable to walk or answer questions.

Her flatmates called an ambulance and she was taken to the emergency department where she was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, was put on antibiotics, intubated and taken to the intensive care unit.

The next day doctors tried to reduce her sedation and get her breathing on her own but that was unsuccessful and two days later she was airlifted to another hospital's intensive care unit for further treatment and to be closer to her family.

Twelve days after she was admitted she was discharged but now lives with ongoing issues from it.

Hill found the doctor and the fourth nurse failed to provide services to the student with reasonable care and skill.

He said the doctor failed to undertake an adequate physical assessment or take an adequate history from her. The fourth nurse failed to ask the woman's flatmate enough specific questions about her condition and should have told her to call an ambulance straight away.

He was also critical of the documentation of the second and third nurses.

He recommended the doctor and fourth nurse provide a written apology to the woman and asked that the university update his office on their use of protocols to make sure there was consistency in telephone triage and record-taking at the clinic.