Hudgell Solicitors managing director Neil Hudgell says ‘tens of millions of pounds’ are being lost from vital health services in the UK because of the NHS refusing to admit indisputable mistakes and compensate people for life-changing injuries caused.
In the wake of an article published in the Mail on Sunday, which has highlighted legal costs totalling £418million across the UK last year relating to claims for medical blunders, Mr Hudgell says his firm has experienced cases in which clear cut errors have been denied, increasing legal costs ‘five-fold’ before victims are compensated.
“On the whole, the NHS does a marvellous job in trying circumstances, but when things do go wrong, lessons need to be learnt, changes made, and lawyers play a significant part in that process of scrutiny, accountability and change,” said Mr Hudgell.
“Our role is to ensure those who suffer life-changing injuries as a result of medical negligence are sufficiently compensated and provided appropriate long-term support and rehabilitation to improve their quality of life.
“The biggest reason for the extent of costs is the approach taken by the NHS when they are faced with claims. Families that have suffered want an apology and explanation, but often they get silence, a lack of explanation and cases are fought for many years because of intransigence and a lack of openness.
“I have seen clear cut cases fought for years and costs have increased five-fold plus. Tens of millions of pounds are being wasted because of this approach, so perhaps looking into the defendant costs in these cases would reveal some interesting figures?”
With a focus on helping people who suffer life-changing injuries, Hudgell Solicitors supports many families of children born with brain injuries due to medical mistakes during pregnancy and birth, those who have further suffered due to late or misdiagnosis of serious conditions, and people who have lost limbs, and families who have lost loved ones.
The firm, and group head of practice Amanda Stevens, were both recently recognised at the national Rehabilitation First Awards for their dedication to ensuring their cases were focussed around providing people with rehabilitation-led support packages.
“It is important to stress that we do not deal with spurious claims or run up unnecessary costs, and that all costs are either agreed with the NHS or assessed by court, so they have to be reasonable and proportionate to the damages which are claimed,” added Mr Hudgell.
“We are one of the top 10 performing clinical negligence firms in the country and we employ specialist lawyers to assist people who have suffered serious injuries, and often lost loved ones, due to avoidable medical errors.
“In many instances, lawyers are consulted as a last resort because frightened, sad and frustrated people are not getting the answers they seek. We will continue to support these families.”
The figures published in the Mail on Sunday show legal costs from cases involving Hudgell Solicitors over a 12 month period were £4.1m, with £4.7m secured in damages for its clients. However, Mr Hudgell says both figures are somewhat misleading.
“The legal costs figure is misleading, as it will include disbursements (expenses) in pursuing the claims such as medical reports and court fees, which can be as much as 30-40 per cent of the total figure. The damages totals will also not include periodic payments made to claimants, which can amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds in years to come.”
Hudgell Solicitors, which was established in 1997 and now has offices in Leeds and London, has secured compensation as high as £6.5m in some cases where life-long injuries have required full-time support and care for families, as well as adaptations to homes.
Recent cases against the NHS have included a £675,000 damages settlement for a man sent home by doctors on 10 occasions when complaining of continued headaches, sickness, dizziness and blurred vision before a CT scan found he had a blood clot on the brain, leaving him with a brain injury, partially sighted and unable to work again.
A claim was also successful against a Trust which missed ‘red flag’ symptoms of bowel cancer in a 65-year-old woman and saw her wrongly diagnosed her with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The woman was found to have terminal cancer when screened two years later, and independent medical experts said she died at least 10 years earlier than they would have expected had she been sent for a colonoscopy and the cancer spotted initially.
Locally, a claim was made against Hull and East Yorkshire Hospital’s NHS Trust after a woman went through four rounds of chemotherapy which she didn’t need – with the error only discovered after she researched the recommended treatment and information herself. Jodi Huggett, 41, took legal action the Trust after discovering her chemotherapy treatment following an operation to remove a low-grade form of bowel cancer had been completely unnecessary.
Last year, Hudgell Solicitors responded to a similar media story by revealing its own costs in cases against the NHS.
It included a case in which a patient developed skin issues after treatment on a cyst on her hand. Hudgell Solicitors secured medical evidence which suggested it had been negligent to use steroid injections, and that the client should have been warned of the possible side effects.
The Trust involved denied liability when presented with the medical opinions, claiming it had been reasonable treatment, resulting in the firm seeking further medical clarification, securing insurance cover for the client and instructing counsel ahead of a court hearing, before issuing legal proceedings against the Trust.
Less than two months after court proceedings were served – but more than two years after the initial claim was made – the Trust involved finally made an offer of £8,000 compensation, before settling at £10,000 after further representation.
In total, the legal costs over the two years the case had been dragged out resulted in fees of £32,500, including counsel fees of £4,332 and insurance costs of £7,650.
“I am a taxpayer. I don’t want to see money wasted that should be going towards essential services, but let’s not shoot the messenger,” added Mr Hudgell.
“Change and improve the system, don’t suppress those that hold people to account when avoidable life-long injuries are being caused and lives are being lost.”