UK Medical Negligence News

Settlement Agreed in Savita Halappanavar Medical Negligence Claim

An undisclosed six-figure settlement of compensation has been agreed in the high-profile Savita Halappanavar medical negligence claim in Ireland.

Savita Halappanavar died on October 28th 2012 at the Galway University Hospital – one week after attending the hospital´s Accident and Emergency department complaining of back pain. Savita (31) was seventeen weeks pregnant with her first child at the time, but doctors failed to consider she was suffering contractions prior to a miscarriage and sent her home.

Savita returned to the hospital later that day and was admitted following a correct diagnosis of her condition. Blood tests were taken that indicated she was about to lose her baby but, despite repeated requests, Savita was denied a termination due to the presence of a foetal heartbeat. Savita subsequently developed septicaemia due to E.coli ESBL – a strain highly resistant to antibiotics.

By Wednesday October 24th, Savita´s condition had deteriorated significantly. She was prescribed stronger anti-biotics and the decision was made to abort the pregnancy to save the mother as allowed by Irish law. Prior to surgery, it was found that the foetus´ heart had stopped beating and, during the operation to remove the foetus, Savita spontaneously delivered her dead child.

Savita suffered septic shock and was transferred to the hospital´s intensive care unit. Over the next few days she became critically ill as her organs started to fail and, on Sunday October 28th 2012, Savita suffered a cardiac arrest and died.

Savita´s husband – Praveen – made a claim against Ireland´s Health Service Executive for the death of his wife due to medical negligence. Ireland´s abortion laws forbid terminating a pregnancy unless the mother´s life is at risk. Praveen alleged that doctors at Galway University Hospital should have realised sooner that Savita´s life was at risk, and conducted the termination when it was originally requested.

Due to the complex nature of Ireland´s abortion laws, the Savita Halappanavar medical negligence claim attracted worldwide interest. Two investigations into the circumstances surrounding Savita´s death both found significant failings in the care provided by the hospital and, in April 2013, the inquest into Savita´s death returned a verdict of death by medical misadventure.

The date of March 10th 2016 was set for a High Court hearing into the Savita Halappanavar medical negligence claim, but the day before the hearing was scheduled to commence, the news broke that the claim had been resolved for an undisclosed six-figure settlement of compensation. It was also reported that both the Health Service Executive and Galway University Hospital had apologised for the failings in Savita´s care.

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NHS Litigation Authority Settles Claim for the Missed Diagnosis of Cancer

A woman from Swindon has received £50,000 compensation from the NHS Litigation Authority in settlement of her claim for the missed diagnosis of cancer.

In March 2009, the unnamed mother of two attended her GP complaining of a lump on the left side of her neck and a persistent dry cough. The woman was referred to the Ear, Nose and Throat Department of the Royal United Hospital in Bath, where she underwent a CT scan.

The scan suggested that the woman may have cancer of the lymph nodes, but the biopsy sample taken to confirm the result of the CT scan was insufficient for a full assessment to be conducted. A review of the scan concluded that there was no need to conduct another biopsy and instead the hospital carried out an MRI scan on her neck.

Following the MRI scan, the woman was diagnosed with “idiopathic vocal chord palsy” – a weakness of the vocal chords that manifests in a persistent dry cough and a hoarse voice. However, in July 2011, the woman returned to her GP with an increase in size of her left cervical lymph nodes, and pins and needles in her left arm.

The GP sent his patient for an urgent chest X-ray and ultrasound scan of her neck. This time the woman was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that had spread into her neck and left shoulder and had to undergo six courses of chemotherapy. Fortunately the treatment managed to halt the spread of the cancer and the pins and needles disappeared.

Due to the distress she had experienced, the woman made a complaint to the Royal University Hospital. The hospital denied any failings in the standard of care she had received, so she sought legal advice and made a claim for the missed diagnosis of cancer after an investigation commissioned by her solicitor detected a number of abnormalities on the 2009 scan.

In her claim for the missed diagnosis of cancer it was alleged that, if the cancer had been correctly identified in 2009, the disease could have been treated with hormone therapy and the woman would not have required chemotherapy. It was also alleged that the appropriate treatment in a timely manner would have cured the vocal chord palsy from which she still suffers.

The Royal United Hospital continued to deny its liability for the woman´s experience but, after issuing court proceedings, her solicitor was able to negotiate a £50,000 settlement of the claim for the missed diagnosis of cancer with the NHS Litigation Authority. Speaking after the claim for the missed diagnosis of cancer had been settled, the woman´s solicitor said:

“Despite our client’s experience, the defendant continued to deny that the failure of the radiologist to report the abnormalities in the MRI scan fell below an acceptable standard of care. This is disappointing but sadly, has become par for the course in clinical negligence cases, where the NHS Litigation Authority and its defendant solicitors refuse point blank to accept liability. However, we are delighted that we achieved a very good settlement for our client”.

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Increase in Claims against Primary Care Nurses for Medical Negligence

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) has reported a steep rise in claims against primary care nurses for medical negligence over the past decade.

The MDU is one of the largest organisations providing medical practitioners in the UK with insurance against medical negligence claims. In 2005, the organisation recorded just two claims against primary care nurses for medical negligence. In 2015, that number had risen to twenty-five.

Much of the increase is attributed to the changing role of primary care nurses in the past decade. An analysis of the claims against primary care nurses for medical negligence shows that nurses are seeing patients with more acute conditions – patients who historically would have been seen by a GP.

The report by the MDU mirrors one produced in 2012 by the Medical Protection Society that attributed the increase in claims against primary care nurses for medical negligence to an expansion of the nursing role and a greater awareness of patients´ rights.

The figures produced by the Medical Protection Society showed the majority of claims against primary care nurses for medical negligence related to missed diagnoses, while the second most common cause was a failure to properly manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, coronary heart disease and hypertension. Three contributing factors were identified by both organisations:

  • The failure to refer (or a delaying in referring) a patient to a GP or specialist.
  • An inadequate assessment of a patient´s condition.
  • Inadequate monitoring of how a disease is progressing.

The MDU´s medico-legal advisor – Dr Beverley Ward – said: “Many practices have devolved more responsibility to nurse practitioners in their team to cope with the increasing demand. However, in taking on roles such as assessing and diagnosing patients, prescribing medicines, and running minor injury clinics, nurse practitioners are also at an increased risk of patients holding them individually accountable if something goes wrong.”

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Value of Claim for the Failure to Remove an Appendix Contested by NHS

The NHS is contesting the value of a claim for the failure to remove an appendix, made by a woman who was left infertile when her appendix burst.

In 2008, Sarah Marquis visited her GP complaining of severe abdominal pain. Sarah was admitted to Homerton Hospital in East London, where doctors treated her with painkillers for three days and overlooked that Sarah needed an emergency operation to remove her appendix. When the appendix was eventually removed, it was “gangrenous and perforated” and had burst – causing a severe abdominal infection that left Sarah infertile.

Due to her illness, Sarah took the next three-and-a-half years off from her £65,000 per year job with top London lawyer firm DLA Piper. She made a claim for the failure to remove an appendix in a timely manner against the Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The NHS Trust admitted liability for her injuries, but disputed the £1.5 million compensation Sarah was claiming – arguing that the value of her claim for the failure to remove an appendix was closer to £300,000.

The case is currently being heard at the High Court in London, where Judge Robert Owen QC was told that Sarah had to forgo opportunities to live and work in the USA because of the consequences of the hospital´s negligence. It was claimed that her earnings would have been considerably higher in the States, and that her dream of naturally conceiving a child with her partner had been taken away from her.

The NHS Trust´s barrister – Bradley Martin – read out an apology to Sarah in which it was acknowledged that hospital negligence had been responsible for her injuries. However, Mr Martin then questioned whether Sarah´s “burning desire” to have children would have overridden her desire to progress her career in the USA – or vice versa – and contested that she would have had one or the other of her desires come true – but not both.

The hearing into the contested claim for the failure to remove an appendix continues.

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Mother Settles Claim for Surgical Packing Left Inside Her during Birth

A mother has settled her claim for surgical packing left inside her during the birth of her son at the Hull Women and Children´s Hospital in 2012.

Elise Cattle (27) gave birth to her son – Freddie – in August 2012, but for months afterwards she suffered from pain, bleeding and infections that prevented her from caring for her newborn child. Unable to change or bathe Freddie, Elise missed vital bonding time with her son while her parents took care of the tasks she was unable to do.

After five months of unresponsive treatment prescribed by her GP, Elise was referred to a specialist. The specialist discovered that surgical packing used to stem bleeding had been left inside her and, as soon as he removed it, Elise´s pains disappeared.

Elise sought legal advice and made a claim for surgical packing left inside her against the Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust. The Trust conducted an investigation into the claim and acknowledged that a mistake in Elise´s care had been made. After a period of negotiation, the Trust agreed to pay Elise £7,500 compensation for the pain and suffering she had experienced.

Speaking with her local paper after the claim for surgical packing left inside had been resolved, Elise said: “When I got home from hospital, the pain just got worse and worse. I couldn’t sit down for days afterwards, and had to use a rubber ring to sit on. I was laid on the sofa while my mum and dad did everything. It really affected my bond with Freddie. I felt like I’d failed him.”

Elise´s solicitor added: “It is accepted by the NHS that these errors are being made simply because healthcare staff and providers are not following clear, simple guidelines.” However, Mike Wright – the Chief Nurse for Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust – told the newspaper that the hospital would learn from its mistake. “Never events are rare, but when mistakes do happen, we are committed to being open and honest about them” Mr Wright told reporters.

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Hearing Continues in Claim for Negligent Spinal Abscess Treatment

A hearing at the London High Court to determine the outcome of a claim for negligent spinal abscess treatment is set to continue for the rest of the week.

The claim was brought following a delay in the diagnosis and treatment of a spinal abscess in 2009 at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. The claimant – who cannot be named for legal reasons – is paralysed from the waist down due to the delay, is confined to a wheelchair and requires round-the-clock care.

The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust admitted liability for the error, but are disputing how much the claim for negligent spinal abscess treatment should be settled for. Lawyers representing the NHS Trust argued in court that most of the costs for caring for the fifty-year-old claimant are the result of drug abuse since his teens – costs that the NHS Trust argues should not be their responsibility.

The claimant´s lawyer values the claim for negligent spinal abscess treatment at £3.4 million, but the NHS Trust says that its contribution to the man´s future care should be less than £1 million. The NHS Trust´s lawyers told the court that, since his confinement to a wheelchair, the claimant has continued his “chaotic” lifestyle and maintains the company of drug addicts and other “undesirable characters”.

The NHS´ lawyers also argued that it was the claimant´s responsibility to kick his drug habit and that it was a matter of public policy why the compensation being claimed should be dramatically reduced. In response, the claimant´s lawyers told the court that his client has a dependency disorder and it would be wrong to deny him the compensation necessary to support him and manage his disability.

The judge presiding over the case ordered that, due to the claimant´s vulnerability, nothing should be published that might identify him. The claim for negligent spinal abscess treatment has been scheduled for seven days and is expected to continue for the rest of this week.

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Woman Alleges Failure to Investigate the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

A woman has instructed solicitors to investigate whether she is entitled to compensation for the failure to investigate the symptoms of cervical cancer.

Tayne Eaton (25) from Ipswich first started displaying the symptoms of cervical cancer in the summer of 2013. She visited her GP on several occasions complaining of bleeding and pain but, at the time, Tayne was too young to automatically qualify for the NHS´s screening test.

Tayne´s symptoms worsened following the birth of her son in September 2014, but she was not sent for a smear test until March 2015 – when a tumour of almost 9cm was discovered. Tayne underwent chemotherapy treatment and has had several other operations – including a hysterectomy – to stop the cancer from spreading.

Now Tayne has instructed solicitors to investigate whether she is entitled to compensation for the failure to investigate the symptoms of cervical cancer. She believes that the condition was not considered by her GP because of her age; and, had she been sent for a smear test earlier, she would not have required such invasive treatment and would be able to have more children in the future.

Tayne claims that had there not been a failure to investigate the symptoms of cervical cancer by her GP, the diagnosis would have been made earlier, and her prognosis would have substantially improved. She said: “I knew something was seriously wrong but I just seemed to go from test to test without anyone really knowing what was happening.”

Speaking about the alleged failure to investigate the symptoms of cervical cancer, Tayne´s solicitor added: “Cervical cancer is a treatable disease with a good long term prognosis when it is diagnosed early, but delays can have terrible consequences. Any symptoms should not be dismissed; it is vital that women know what to look out for and take medical advice but, equally, that doctors pay attention to their concerns”.

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Patient Awarded Compensation for the Failure to Assess a Head Wound

The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in North Wales has been told to pay an Anglesey woman £1,000 compensation for the failure to assess a head wound.

On May 26th 2013, the woman identified only as “Mrs A” fell down a flight of steps at her Anglesey home. She was taken to the Ysbyty Gwynedd Hospital by ambulance with a head wound and possible injury to her neck.

Medical staff at the hospital´s accident and emergency department noted a small laceration to the back of her head, but they focused their attention on her possible neck injury. When no serious injury was identified, the woman was given a neck collar and discharged.

On June 1st, the woman attended the Ysbyty Penrhos Stanley Hospital in Holyhead as she was concerned that the head wound had opened. An out-of-hours GP dressed the wound, but noted that it was possibly infected and “Mrs A” remained under the care of a district nurse for another month.

Her husband wrote a letter to the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, complaining about the failure to assess his wife´s head wound. Unfortunately, the Health Board did not reply to the complaint until the following January – the reply claiming that the standard of care received by “Mrs A” was appropriate.

Dissatisfied by the response, Mrs A´s husband then complained to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. The Ombudsman conducted an investigation and found that, although there was no evidence the wound had become infected, there were shortcomings in the recommended procedure for managing acute trauma cases.

The Ombudsman was also critical of the Health Board´s response time, which was described as “frankly woeful”. The Ombudsman recommended the Health Board pay Mrs A £1,000 compensation for the failure to assess a head wound – £200 for the undue delay in its initial response, £300 for the subsequent delay and £500 for the extra pain and discomfort she suffered.

Commenting on the award of compensation for the failure to assess a head wound, a spokesperson for the Health Board said: “We use the Ombudsman’s reports to learn from and improve our services and any recommendations will be actioned appropriately.”

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Woman Settles Claim for Post-Hysterectomy Medical Negligence

A woman from Nottinghamshire has received an undisclosed settlement of compensation after having made a claim for post-hysterectomy medical negligence.

On 13th August 2012, Tina Grace (44) from Kirkby in Nottinghamshire attended the Kings Mill Hospital to undergo a hysterectomy. The procedure appeared to be successful and Tina was discharged five days later despite concerns by her parents that she was not well enough to care for her two children who were aged 13 and 2 at the time.

Three weeks after the operation, Tina started to feel breathless and experienced a burning sensation in her leg. Tina´s parents called an ambulance and Tina was readmitted to the Kings Mill Hospital, where she was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis. Unfortunately the blood clot in her leg had broken up, travelled up to her lungs and caused a pulmonary embolism.

Tina remained in hospital for eleven days, and then had to take the blood-thinning agent Warfarin for a further six months. During her recovery Tina sought legal advice and made a claim for post-hysterectomy medical negligence – alleging that she should have been provided with surgical stockings and anti-clotting medication on her discharge from the hysterectomy procedure.

In November 2012, Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust acknowledged liability for Tina´s deep vein thrombosis and accepted that, on the balance of probabilities, the pulmonary embolism would have been avoided if Tina had been provided with surgical stockings and anti-clotting medication when she was discharged from Kings Mill Hospital in August.

After lengthy negotiations, a settlement of Tina´s claim for post-hysterectomy medical negligence was agreed with the NHS Trust. Speaking after the undisclosed settlement had been negotiated, Tina told her local newspaper she feared her two children would be left motherless due to the post-hysterectomy medical negligence. “I really felt like I could have died. I was terrified and it felt like every breath I took would be my last,” she said.

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NHS Acknowledges Liability in Locked-In Syndrome Compensation Claim

An NHS Trust has acknowledged that the standard of care provided to a girl making a locked-in syndrome compensation claim fell below an acceptable standard.

In September 2011, Anna White (then fifteen years of age) was admitted to the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan for an appendectomy. The operation appeared to have gone well until Anna started convulsing during her recovery.

Anna continued convulsing to the alarm of her mother – Donna – who was by her daughter´s bedside. Donna attracted a nurse´s attention, but it was too late to prevent Anna suffering a cardiac arrest. While she was being resuscitated, Anna suffered a lack of oxygen, which resulted in brain damage and catastrophic disabilities.

Now nineteen years of age, Anna is unable to get out of bed or move from her wheelchair without specialist equipment. She cannot wash or feed herself unaided, and can only communicate by looking at letters on a board to spell out words. Her intellectual capacity is unimpaired but doctors say she faces being “locked in” her body for the rest of her life.

An investigation into what caused Anna to suffer a cardiac arrest after a routine operation found that the tube used to deliver anaesthetic to Anna during the appendectomy was not flushed out properly after it had been used. A small dose of the drug was left inside it and when fluids were administered to Anna following the surgery through the same tube, the remaining anaesthetic was inadvertently delivered into her body.

On her daughter´s behalf, Donna made a locked-in syndrome compensation claim so that Anna will be provided with the specialist care she will need for the rest of her life. Now the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust has admitted liability for the error that caused Anna to suffer such catastrophic disabilities and negotiations have started to settle the locked-in syndrome compensation claim.

A spokesperson for the NHS Trust said: “The Trust has admitted that the care it provided to Anna White fell below an acceptable standard, and has apologised unreservedly to Ms White for this. The Trust has implemented a number of changes to eliminate the possibility of this type of failing occurring in the future. Given that legal proceedings in relation to this care are ongoing, the Trust is unable to offer further comment at this stage”.

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