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Death toll from NHS medication errors is completely unacceptable – but sadly not a surprise

medication


As specialists in handling cases relating to medication errors at Hudgell Solicitors, we have not been surprised by a new report revealing prescription mistakes and drugs mix-ups in the NHS contribute to as many as 22,300 deaths a year.

The figures are shocking to the ordinary person on the street, most of whom would imagine such a basic mistake to be very rare.

Yet medication errors equates to four to five deaths every single day, whether it be a mistake over prescription, dispensing, or the monitoring of medications.

Sadly, through our work supporting families who have been badly let down by health professionals, our medical negligence team at Hudgell Solicitors sees all too often how such basic errors can prove life-changing or even fatal.

I myself represented the widow of a man who was in hospital with pneumonia and was mistakenly given laxatives, despite already suffering from diarrhea, with the mistake contributing to him losing his life.

It was completely devastating for his family, and an error which my client will never be able to understand or accept.

Our firm also recently represented the family of 85-year-old Sheila Brock, who suffered a massive blood clot and died after a hospital mix-up left her without the vital blood-thinning medication she required for more than two days.

Jeremy Hunt admits ‘appalling levels of totally preventable harm and death’

The new research, conducted by university academics in Manchester, Sheffield and York, has identified more than 230 million medication errors a year in the NHS, a figure which is completely indefensible.

It has seen Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt forced to admit such mistakes have been ‘causing appalling levels of harm and death that are totally preventable’, and has led to him unveiling new plans to tackle the issue.

Mr Hunt is pledging to speed up the roll-out of electronic prescribing systems between GPs and pharmacists, which it is being said could cut errors “by up to 50 per cent”, as it bring an end to the use of illegible or incomplete paper prescriptions.

A new central database is also being proposed to join up medications given in GP practices with reasons for hospital admissions, allowing doctors to determine if a patient ended up in hospital because of drugs they were given, or should have been given.

New protections are also to be put in place for pharmacists to prevent them being prosecuted where a genuine error, such as an interaction with another medication the pharmacist wasn’t aware of, happens.

This is a move aimed at creating a more open culture across the NHS, where people feel able to own up to making mistakes without the threat of being prosecuted hanging over their heads.

It is hoped this more transparent approach will lead to better learning, with details of errors shared across hospitals, GPs and pharmacies, preventing such mistakes being repeated.

Only by admitting errors can NHS begin to tackle and reduce them

Mr Hunt was keen to stress that the study, commissioned by the Government, was not about blaming NHS staff, but about creating a culture where checks are in place to stop errors happening in the first place.

That is something we have long called for in our work at Hudgell Solicitors – and it is why we believe our work has an important role to play in bringing about improved standards of care.

Too often – across all aspects of healthcare – genuine mistakes and errors are not admitted and investigated. It means lessons are not learned, and potentially life-threatening mistakes are repeated.

We hope this pledge of transparency leads to mistakes being fully admitted.

It will certainly help make the process of people being rightly compensated for their suffering and loss easier.

It should also cut the cost to the NHS significantly, and most importantly lead to improved standards of care and a big reduction in the loss of life.

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23/02/2018 No Comments

Hospitals must improve levels of screening and response to stop sepsis causing thousands of preventable deaths

Doctors Hospital Corridor Nurse Pushing Gurney Stretcher Bed


Sepsis is now a bigger killer than any single form of cancer in the UK.

It causes 44,000 deaths each year, mainly because those suffering from the disease often mistake its symptoms for more common illnesses.

That is perhaps understandable in those not medically trained, but it is shocking to learn how many hospital trusts are failing to meet treatment guidelines – leading to patients not being screened for the disease, and not being given treatment quickly enough when it is diagnosed.

Sepsis starts with an infection, sometimes from something as minor as a contaminated cut or insect bite.

It causes the body’s immune system to go into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions including widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting.

This can reduce blood supply to vital organs, starving them of oxygen, and if not treated quickly, sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

It is a huge threat to life is now recognised by all involved in any form of health care, yet figures from 104 hospital trusts, seen by investigative BBC programme Panorama, has revealed concerning trends.

At Liverpool Heart and Chest Foundation NHS Trust, less than one in 10 patients who required screening actually received it during the 12 months to March 2017.

And even when hospitals identified the need for antibiotics, many failed to act quickly enough.

One in four failed to give antibiotics to half of patients recognised to have sepsis within the recommended time frame of an hour. At Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, only a quarter of patients who were identified as suffering from sepsis were given antibiotics within the recommended time.

Every hour in delay of treatment raises the risk of sepsis death

Although sepsis can affect people of any age, is most common in the elderly and the very young.

It is a killer condition which it seems is yet to be fully understood not only by general members of the public, but by hospitals up and down the country.

Every 3.5 seconds, someone dies from Sepsis. It is the biggest direct cause of deaths in pregnancy in the UK, and studies now show it affects 260,000 people a year – 100,000 more cases than have been previously estimated.

Sadly, we have handled a number of cases at Hudgell Solicitors where the treatment of sepsis has been too slow.

When investigating the circumstances around sepsis deaths, we instruct independent medical experts to assess the treatment provided, and in each case experts have highlighted how every hour of delay in treating patients with antibiotics raises the risk of death.

The Panorama figures show that one in five eligible patients are not currently being screened for signs of sepsis, and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admits that the NHS now has “more to do” to stop “preventable” sepsis deaths occurring.

It is clear that despite the growing threat to lives, there are still many lessons to be learned about the need to identify symptoms early and take immediate action.

Breathlessness, confusion, extreme chills and shivering, muscle pain, fast breathing and heartbeats, feeling dizzy and faint and feverish are all possible early signs of sepsis

Loss of consciousness, mottled or discoloured skin, slurred speech and vomiting are also clear signs of danger.

Saying ‘there’s a long way to go’ seems a massive understatement from Mr Hunt.

With an estimated 14,000 preventable deaths every year in the UK, hospital trusts must make improving their care in this area a priority and quickly find much better ways of identifying and treating sepsis earlier.

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15/09/2017 No Comments

Hospital Trust admits ‘memory lapse’ led to doctors being unaware woman who died when pregnant with twins had dangerous heart condition



The family of a woman who died of severe heart failure when pregnant with twins say it is ‘unforgiveable’ that a mistake led to the midwives and doctors treating her being unaware her family had a history of heart disease.

Kelly Forrest, 36, had lost her father when he was aged just 22 to cardiomyopathy – a hereditary disease of abnormal heart walls which is especially dangerous for pregnant women due to the added stress on the heart when having children.

Ms Forrest, who was already a mother of three children, had made midwives aware of her family history at her first antenatal appointment, where it was recorded in her medical notes, but due to a ‘memory lapse’ was not transferred onto Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trusts’ electronic systems.

Due to this error, Ms Forrest believed she was being cared for by midwives and doctors aware of her family background throughout her pregnancy, but that was not the case.

When 32 weeks pregnant, Ms Forrest’s family say she became increasingly unwell, suffering from breathlessness, sweating, feeling dizzy and vomiting.

She was sent home from Hull Royal Infirmary’s Maple Ward having been prescribed iron for anaemia, before being sent home again a day later from Priory Children’s Centre and advised to contact the antenatal day unit if her condition worsened.

However, just three days on June 5th, 2014, later Ms Forrest died after suffering severe heart failure and a massive loss of blood as doctors battled to save her when admitted to the emergency department in an ambulance.

Ms Forrest’s two baby boys survived having being delivered by a Caesarean Section, with one needing resuscitation.

Hospital staff only became aware she had she had died of dilated cardiomyopathy following a post mortem.

Investigation identified catalogue of errors pregnancy care

Now, following a legal case which consulted a number of independent medical specialists for expert opinion, Ms Forrest’s family have been told the catalogue of errors admitted by Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust cannot categorically be attributed to her death.

Experts said her illness in the two and three days before her death was ‘unexplained’ and that her final illness was ‘complex, multifactorial and essentially untreatable.”

For her mother, Anne Campbell, this has been a difficult conclusion to accept, and she says such ‘basic errors’ being made in maternity units are a cause for wider concern.

“How on earth can something so significant simply not be entered into vital medical records when it is known to be dangerous to pregnant women?” she said.

“Kelly made it known to the doctors as soon as possible that there was the family history of losing her dad when he was just 22. They say it was a ‘memory lapse’ that led to that being missed during her care, but they may as well have just completely ignored her.

“It has been very difficult to accept that, despite the Trust admitting a string of errors in Kelly’s care, this error at the start- impacting on her entire care when pregnant – did not contribute to her death.

“My granddaughter (Kelly’s daughter), who is 21, is now having to go for regular testing in Leeds and the boys will do also. It is a serious condition and they want to monitor her closely and have said she must speak to them before trying for a baby herself.

“I am certain Kelly would have been monitored much more closely had it been known, they even admitted it should have been an ‘escalated matter’ during her pregnancy.

“The worrying thing is how many basic errors like this are being made across maternity care? What else should midwives and doctors be aware of when treating patients but are not? These kinds of mistakes are completely unforgivable.”

Root cause of incident was ‘memory lapse’

A Serious Incident Investigation concluded that the root cause of the incident had been ‘an unintended skill based memory lapse as the patients’ family history was not escalated appropriately or acted upon at any point during her pregnancy’.

As a result, details of the error have since been circulated across the NHS nationally. Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust has also reminded all staff of the need to accurately transfer all hand-held records onto its electronic system, and that consultants and midwives must review handheld notes through the pregnancy.

Mrs Campbell added: “It is all very well saying lessons have been learned but how often do we hear that, and when such basic mistakes are being made, how can we believe it. You don’t need extra training to know the importance of making sure patient records have all vital details on.

“The only positive from this horrendous situation has been the two beautiful boys that were added to our family. They are three-years-old now and are starting to ask about their wonderful mummy.

“Kelly was a fantastic daughter and mother. She inspired her eldest daughter and cared for her middle son who has Aspergers Syndrome. She was very strong headed and wouldn’t hold back on her opinions and thoughts, so she’d expect us to speak out and highlight what happened.

“We tell the boys mummy is an angel and in heaven. She will certainly be looking down on them and she would have loved every minute of them.”

Nicola Evans, a medical negligence specialist at Hudgell Solicitors, has represented the family as they have demanded answers from the Trust.

She said: “This was a very sad incident and it is certainly fair to say there were many areas of concern with regards to the processes at Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust and how basic errors were made which impacted on the future care of their patient.

“Ensuring midwives and doctors have all the relevant information at hand when caring for any patient, particularly a pregnant woman, is imperative and can be so dangerous if not the case.

“This case has led to lessons being learned at the Trust, which we certainly welcome, but also acts as a warning to other patients and mothers to not be afraid to repeat their concerns and ask questions of their care at all times. It is clear that doctors don’t always have all the information they need at hand to make the right calls, and that is a worry.”

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05/09/2017 No Comments

Compensation for mum who missed bonding time with new son following hospital’s ‘hazardous’ medication error

Newborn baby feet on mother


A mother says she missed ‘irreplaceable’ bonding time with her new-born son during the first few months of his life as mistakes by doctors left her taking a mix of medication causing anxiety and hallucinations.

Emma Houghton, 41, from Portsmouth, had enjoyed a smooth pregnancy and a problem-free caesarean birth as she and her husband Benjamin welcomed their son Noel into the world.

However, after returning home, Mrs Houghton began suffering severe anxiety, insomnia, memory loss, tremors, sweating, vomiting and hallucinations, with the symptoms lasting around three months.

Solicitors acting on her behalf in a legal claim against Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Queen Alexandra Hospital where Mrs Houghton had Noel and was treated in the weeks afterwards, claimed medication she had been prescribed left her ‘filled with anxiety and ill health’ and unable to bond properly with her son.

The problems began when Mrs Houghton suffered “excruciating” pain in her chest days after returning home.

Doctors believed it to be musculoskeletal related to the birth and prescribed her with Tramadol in a bid to ease her suffering – a drug which should not have been suggested as she was already taking Imipramine to tackle anxiety and panic attacks.

The combination of the two drugs is noted as being “potentially hazardous” in the British National Formulary pharmaceutical reference book.

Medication made new mum feel ‘anxious and spaced out’

Having started taking the medication, Mrs Houghton says she immediately began to feel anxious and ‘spaced out’, and says it was only after seeking advice from a psychiatrist, and having made further trips to the hospital, that she realised the error had been made.

“When I started taking the Tramadol, my anxiety was so extreme and I couldn’t do anything with Noel,” she said.

“Within a couple of hours, I thought I could see a cat in the garden and I was completely tripping out and hallucinating. I was spaced out. Feeling like that would normally scare me, but I was so out of it, I thought it was okay.

“After 10 days of feeling like this on the Tramadol, I couldn’t take any more. I knew I wasn’t bonding with my baby so I stopped taking it, cold turkey. Within 24 hours, my anxiety was through the roof. I felt like I did before I started taking my medication and it was overwhelming, shear panic, and I couldn’t eat or sleep.

“I went to see my psychiatrist after speaking to him on the phone twice and not once did he relate my symptoms to postnatal depression or anxiety. He said it was all down to the Tramadol. He looked it up and it was a very hazardous combination with Imipramine.

“I was gutted as it had been a medical error that had made such an impact on my life and my first weeks with Noel.

“The pain I experienced was extreme. I don’t want to be on anxiety medication and want to be more in control of it as it comes on for no reason at all. It’s a chemical imbalance and all I can do is live a healthy lifestyle.”

Damages awarded to reflect impact on mum in early months of son’s life

Mrs Houghton has now been awarded £3,000 damages following her legal claim through medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors.

She says she missed out on crucial time with Noel in the first few weeks of his life, as she was unable to breastfeed and do any more than simply hold him.

“On the first full day I breastfed him once, we were worried he wasn’t going to come round. It was the scariest thing ever, so I stopped and put him on formula,” she said.

“I could hold him but there wasn’t any bonding and I couldn’t breastfeed. I was really disappointed because I really enjoyed breastfeeding and looking after him and those early months of bonding are irreplaceable.

“For the first few weeks, I was very angry, upset and emotional. It was horrific. It wasn’t until I went back to A&E about my pain a few weeks later that I realised how big an error had been made. I told one of the doctors what I’d been prescribed and he couldn’t believe it.

“It was heart-breaking to know it was someone else’s fault when I had taken every precaution possible and that a medical professionals didn’t take the time to check.”

Legal claim highlighted medication error and failure to recognise likely adverse reaction

The legal claim against the Trust alleged it had unreasonably prescribed Tramadol to Mrs Houghton while she was taking Imipramine, failed to note the adverse reaction it could cause and instead had incorrectly advised her it would not be a problem.

It was also alleged the Trust failed to obtain Mrs Houghton’s informed consent for the prescription, as she would have refused it if she’d known how it could affect her, failed to arrange a follow-up appointment and failed to keep a reasonable record of the consultation.

As a result, it was alleged she suffered anxiety for three months, as well as other symptoms including insomnia, memory loss, tremors, sweating, vomiting and increased hallucinations, inability to bond with her son, and a delay in reducing her Imipramine prescription.

The Trust admitted breach of duty in prescribing and administering Tramadol while she was taking Imipramine, but denied the Tramadol caused a relapse of her illness, offering the £3,000 settlement out of court.

Patient urges other new mums to take care with all medication

Mrs Houghton now wants other patients to learn from her case and be vigilant when being prescribed any medication.

“I don’t want anyone else to go through this. It might not occur again but I wanted to hold someone liable for the time I lost bonding with my son. It should have been a happy time. My son is beautiful and funny, and we are very thankful for everything we have,” she said.

“It was well documented in my notes that I was taking Imipramine. I saw my psychiatrist before and during my pregnancy to check if there was anything I needed to be aware of regarding my medication and I followed everything I was supposed to do.

“I’m so cautious with everything, even cough medicines, and I would rather break every bone in my body than have anxiety again, but you trust a hospital where you give birth to be right.”

Mrs Houghton, a divisional sales manager for an international beauty and fashion company, said the pain she had experienced following the birth of Noel, now 22 months, was eventually attributed to a car accident she had been involved in two weeks before he was born.

She said doctors believed the muscles affected had been protected by Noel and the pain only surfaced once he had been born.

Legal case resulted in damages and apology from Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust

Nicola Downey, of Hudgell Solicitors, coordinated Mrs Houghton’s case and says she hopes the admission of breach of duty by the Trust goes some way to acknowledging the serious errors made.

She said: “Having a baby, especially your first, is a huge event in your life and can often bring about a range of different emotions and feelings.

“Mrs Houghton was acutely aware of how her anxiety affected her and rightly asked questions about how medication could affect her while she was pregnant and still taking Imipramine.

“Unfortunately, the prescription of Tramadol had such an adverse effect, it affected her ability to properly bond with her son in those vital early stages.

“What should have been a time of joy and happiness was instead filled with anxiety and ill health as a result of this medication error.

“I’m pleased Mrs Houghton now has the admissions she wanted and can move forward knowing we have reached this outcome.”

In legal correspondence, the Trust said it empathised with Mrs Houghton at “what must have been a very distressful time” for her, and said it was “very sorry for the error”.

Mrs Houghton, who says she would like to have another baby, praised Hudgell Solicitors for their support in challenging her care and said she was grateful for Nicola’s care and compassion throughout the case.

She said: “Nicola has been perfect throughout everything and very understanding.

“She was one of the most sympathetic people in terms of listening and understanding, and I would recommend her to anybody should they suffer in a similar way.

“Now, I want to move on but I still remain angry that someone else impacted on my future with my son because of their negligence.”

Related News 

Portsmouth News 

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07/08/2017 No Comments

£100,000 damages for grandmother who had to go under knife three times due to hospital’s hip replacement error



A health trust has paid £100,000 damages to a patient after doctors needed three attempts to correctly complete her hip replacement.

Suzanne Harvey, 59, had to go under the knife three times in the space of eight days.

As part of a successful legal claim against Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, it was alleged the errors caused the grandmother of 15 to suffer long-term problems which would have been avoided had the initial operation been completed successfully.

Ms Harvey’s new hip dislocated as she was being moved from her hospital trolley back to her bed following her operation at Calderdale Royal Hospital, West Yorkshire.

It meant she had to return to theatre the following day to have her new hip relocated, but this once again proved unsuccessful, with doctors noting in the days following that she still required further “revision surgery” as her hip was deemed “unstable”.

The matter was finally successfully resolved eight days after the original operation, but came at an extra cost according to independent medical experts who were consulted by medical negligence claims specialists Hudgell Solicitors.

It was alleged as part of the legal case that had the hip been correctly inserted and the dislocation avoided, Ms Harvey would have been mobile after one to two days and walking on crutches and sticks over an eight to 10-week period.

Instead, it was claimed she had made a poor recovery and, as a result of the dislocation, had developed chronic post-surgical pain and hip dysfunction, which in turn has caused additional pressure on her knees, left hip and back.

The solicitors suggested these issues, including the need for a total left knee replacement, were brought forward by two to three years as a result of the errors made in hospital, leaving Ms Harvey with an increased perception of pain.

Operation was supposed to be ‘answer to prayers’ but became ‘a nightmare’

Ms Harvey had suffered with arthritis for more than three decades and was convinced a hip replacement would solve her ongoing pain problems, but said the ordeal, in 2012, had changed her life completely.

She was awarded £100,000 compensation, but still faces a further hip replacement procedure within the next four years due to her replacement’s lifespan, an operation she says she is now terrified to have.

She said: “I’ve had hip pain for many years and I researched replacements and thought the good outweighed the bad. I thought this was going to be the answer to my prayers but the whole thing has been a nightmare.

“I felt my hip dislocate when they moved me after the first operation. I have never experienced pain like it. Another patient said she will never forget the noise I made for the rest of her life. I was hysterical. I ended up having three operations and three general anaesthetics.

“I couldn’t walk properly for about six months and I needed help at home. It has changed my life completely since.

“The replacement was supposed to get me back on my feet. Instead, I’m like a hermit and I only go out when my family takes me. I don’t feel safe going on my own. I’m so young at heart, but my body is in bits. It’s unbelievable.

“I feel disgusted, hurt and frightened because I now know I need to have another hip replacement, but I don’t want it. I still have nightmares and flashbacks, and I wake up screaming about what the pain was like. I can walk but I’m in constant pain and I’ll be on painkillers for the rest of my life.

“I feel fed up a lot and I feel like a prisoner because I can’t walk far. I used to go out every weekend and two or three times during the week, but I rarely go into town now.

“All I ever wanted from taking legal action was a genuine face-to-face apology, but I’ve never had one. I’ve felt like a number, not a patient, and £100,000 still isn’t an apology.”

Trust admits breach of duty causing dislocation need for extra surgery

Reports by independent medical experts said Ms Harvey could have expected to have regained reasonable hip function within five to six months and would not have suffered chronic post-surgical pain, as well as other health problems, had the initial operation been completed successfully.

They also said her right hip replacement would have had a normal 15-year lifespan, rather than the eight to 10-year lifespan her current hip has.

It was also alleged Ms Harvey suffered an avoidable eight-day period of pain and distress, including having two more avoidable surgical procedures and treatment in an abduction brace.

Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust admitted breach of duty, accepting liability for the dislocation of Ms Harvey’s hip and the need for revision surgery as a result, offering the £100,000 settlement as damages.

‘Errors were completely unacceptable’

Solicitor Tasmin White, of Hudgell Solicitors, represented Ms Harvey in the case.

She said: “This was a horrendous experience for Ms Harvey which did not simply cause upset and pain at the time but has continued to have a long-lasting impact on her quality of life.

“It is completely unacceptable for such avoidable errors to be made. Put simply, this case was about the failure to ensure the hip replacement was done correctly the first time. The hospital trust admits there was a breach of the duty of care owed to Ms Harvey. 

“Having to undergo any form of surgery is a big decision and can be a traumatic time for a patient, so to go through an operation, then suffer agonising pain from a dislocation and then have to face two more surgical procedures is shocking. It is perhaps not surprising that Ms Harvey is reluctant about any future surgery on her hip.

“The initial hip replacement operation should have been the answer to her problems. Instead it has caused years more pain and discomfort.

“It’s been a long process to get the compensation Ms Harvey deserves, and she has been so patient throughout. I’m relieved it’s over for her now and that she is happy with the outcome.”

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04/08/2017 No Comments

We should never forget the human cost behind a medical negligence claim and the focus must be on improving the process for them

tethoscope on health insurance form


Figures and statistics rarely tell the full story, and when it comes to reports around the costs of legal claims made against the NHS due to medical negligence, that is certainly the case.

The annual report of NHS Resolution (NHSR) – the new name for the NHS Litigation Authority – has again focussed around a rise in legal costs in cases over the past year to just under £500m.

Its report places a heavy focus on the legal costs attributed to claimant lawyers such as ourselves at Hudgell Solicitors, with little reflection on the human cost of repeated, major medical errors made across the NHS.

It also omits reference to the fact that every profession has to carry indemnity insurance and medicine is no different – the prospect of no reserve to meet liabilities would be the more frightening picture, adding insult to injury

Costs are always a good distraction from the major issue at hand here, the failing of patients and a continued culture of denial when NHS Trusts are faced with litigation.

Let’s be clear, costs can only ever be recovered by lawyers acting on behalf of patients when a medical body or organisation has been found or accepted that negligence has caused injuries or harm.

Costs in cases also include fees for reports from experts and barristers if the case is set to proceed to court, and the final fees recovered by lawyers have to be agreed between parties or assessed and approved by a judge.

So, hardly the scandal often presented in the media, but an agreed legal process to ensure patients harmed by negligence have strong legal representation to help them fight for the damages they deserve.

Rising damages payments to patients emphasises need to reduce errors across NHS

Whilst focussing on the costs total, the NHSR has failed to properly reflect on the significance of the near £1.1bn secured in damages to clinical claimants through claims, which again, are payments only made in accepted or proven cases of medical negligence.

This surely reflects on an unacceptable picture of avoidable health care errors being made, errors which are often life-changing, or even fatal.

Our medical negligence specialists at Hudgell Solicitors support many people who have life-long rehabilitation and care needs following medical negligence errors on a day to day basis, and providing that life-time care for such people will contribute significantly to that £1.1bn overall damages figure.

These people have often had no answers from the health bodies involved as to what went wrong and why, and it is only through the support, skills and expertise of our legal experts that they are able to hold people to account.

Highly complicated cases, such as injuries at birth, naturally take many years to conclude because the child needs to be old enough to be assessed.

These cases account for many of the most expensive claims, as they involve babies left brain damaged at birth, where payouts involve the cost of care for life.

Yet even in cases such as this, legal costs are being focussed upon and suggestions are being made to ‘fast track’ cases, simply to cut costs.

We certainly support any moves which can speed up the legal process, but certainly never at the expense of proper compensation and the correct long-term support being provided.

The focus here again is being placed on the wrong area – the human cost is the issue at hand, and will only be worsened with less legal influence, as vital knowledge and experience from people truly working in the best interests of the client would be lost.

Devastated mum only discovered errors had cost her baby boy his life after legal support

The cost of medical negligence can never be more than when it leads to the loss of life, and in most such cases legal action is focussed on getting answers and ensuring vital lessons are learned

Mother Gaynor McConnell suffered the heartache of losing her baby boy Cayden to meningitis when he was just one-year-old.

She feared something had been missed by doctors, as Cayden having overcome a bout of meningitis at four months, was constantly ill afterwards, but she was always assured all was fine.

Only through legal investigations, which saw independent medical experts consulted, did the Hospital Trust involved admit Cayden could have been saved with different treatment.

This was because an MRI scan taken at four months showed an open passage (tract) running from the base of Cayden’s spine to the area of a lump on his back, something which should have led doctors to investigate and discover that Cayden had a dermoid tumour which needed removing.

Had that tumour been completely or even partially removed, the recurrence of the meningitis which killed Cayden seven months later would have been unlikely.

Never in this case has compensation been the focus.

Ms McConnell has now dedicated her time to raising awareness and warning other parents to always demand more tests and answers when they have worries.

Hopefully, crucial lessons have also been learned by medical staff not only at that Hospital Trust, but also at others, as following the claim the care provided was fully scrutinised and investigated as it should be, rather than being brushed under the carpet.

Failure to admit errors continues to be a major issue impacting on fees

The NHSR report has tried to distance health bodies from dragging out the legal process, but it is our continued experience that they too often deny responsibility until faced with the ultimate threat of court action.

They force lawyers down the route of gathering independent medical expert reports, putting insurance cover in place for the client’s costs over the claim, and instructing barristers for potential court hearings.

We recently settled a case involving a young man who suffered a testicular torsion (a highly painful cord twist which cuts off blood supply), as the hospital failed to provide him with urgent surgical treatment, causing him to lose his testicle.

Despite an apology from the Trust involved, and a letter stating “we will not contest the legal case”, the claim was denied.

This caused us to have to obtain independent medical evidence, from which a urologist confirmed surgery had not been performed as urgently as it should have been, and that the longer the delay the less viable the testicle was going to be.

Compensation was finally agreed, after we had issued court proceedings, three-and-a-half years after the Trust had first written to our client to apologise and state it would not contest legal proceedings.

If a reasonable damages offer had been forthcoming at the initial stage, our costs would have been minimal. Instead the claim went on for three years and six months.

In the end, the total costs in this case, including court fees, medical reports, insurance and barristers fees will be some six or seven times higher than they could have been.

Add to this the costs to the NHS of their own legal representation – which totalled £126m in 2016/17 – and it is easy to see why this figure has also been rising.

Mediation needed at the start to bring down costs and improve patient care

The NHSR report says “Getting the lawyers on both sides engaged in mediation has been challenging but the panel has already been active in building interest with some encouraging early signs.”

We find mediation simply does not happen however until later in the court process, following the issuing of legal proceedings.

In one relatively low value case in which our client suffered delayed diagnosis of a lumbar vertebrae fracture due to an inadequate assessment when he initially attended at hospital, liability was denied by the NHSLA despite us having supportive independent medical opinion.

Despite attempts on our part to settle the claim at £3,000 and then at £1,500, the defendant refused and we eventually issued court proceedings but suggested mediation as a possible means of resolving matters.

The NHSLA agreed to this and mediation was conducted by telephone, resulting in the claim being settled for £1,250 plus our costs.

However, our initial offer of £3,000 damages had been made in December 2015, and then we made a second offer of £1,500 in August 2016. The mediation took place in February 2017 and a settlement was reached.

Therefore, the saving to the NHS in terms of damages awarded was £1,750 from our original offer, and as little as £250 from our second offer, savings which were significantly overshadowed by the additional costs and disbursements that we incurred after our offers were made.

Such increased legal fees like this can be easily avoided with proactive involvement from the defendants early on.

More often than not our clients want someone to speak to and want someone to understand what has happened to them. Therefore, the cost of mediation at an early stage would likely make the client feel listened to, and vindicated to some extent.

It would also likely lead to a speedier resolution, lower costs all round, and quicker access to treatment for the people at the centre of all of this – those left with injuries due to errors being made and are too often discussed as figures, rather than people with a genuine need of expert support and care.

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18/07/2017 No Comments

Elderly Abuse Soars As GPs Warn Care System ‘Disintegrating’

Elderly man sitting on bench | Elderly abuse soars | Hudgell Solicitors


Cases of elderly abuse and neglect have risen by a third, with GPs warning that the UK care system is “rapidly disintegrating”.

Latest figures show that GPs made over 5,600 referrals to social services in 2015/16, an increase of 33% over a two-year period.

Worryingly, 60% of GPs who referred patients to social care services said they were unable to secure the appropriate care for those affected, and that the response from social services was wholly inadequate. It’s now believed that thousands of pensioners in care homes or their own home are suffering abuse and neglect, despite concerns from their GP.

Welfare charities involved in safeguarding the elderly have reacted angrily to the report, with Age UK labelling the findings “truly frightening”. The figures came as part of a Freedom of Information request by Pulse magazine, which is carrying out an investigation into the UK’s social care failings.

A survey of 800 GPs found that a third were unable to contact social services to make an abuse referral, whilst 42% said there was an unacceptable delay before any action was taken. Speaking to the Telegraph, Dr Ayesha Sharieff, a GP in South London, said her team often find it impossible to contact social services regarding abuse cases, and that, even after reaching the service, many social workers were found to be on stress-related leave.

Under safeguarding rules intended to protect vulnerable persons from abuse and neglect, GPs are expected to raise concerns with the relevant social care services. However, with the social care sector facing seismic spending cuts, doctors are finding it increasingly difficult to secure the appropriate support and care for elderly patients they suspect are suffering abuse.

Despite the government injecting £1 billion into the cash-strapped social care system last year, council chiefs this week confirmed that social care cuts will continue throughout 2017. Local authorities in England are facing pressure to make £824m in healthcare savings, and social care services are expected to take the brunt of the spending cuts.

9 in 10 Care Workers Have Witnessed Care Home Abuse

elderly person in care | Elderly abuse soars

While news of the increase in abuse referrals is shocking, it’s sadly not all that surprising. Last year, a Nursing Times study revealed that nine in ten care workers have witnessed abuse and neglect in care homes, with one in four witnessing physical violence towards vulnerable elderly people. These figures are abhorrent, and highlight the deep-seated issues facing Britain’s social care system.

Over the past twelve months, cases of care home neglect and abuse have hit the headlines on several occasions, highlighting the need for an intervention into how social care services are managed and funded. And yet, despite the growing severity of the situation, news of rising abuse towards elderly people throws into sharp relief the government’s lack of action in working to address issues within the social care sector.

Through our work at Hudgell Solicitors, we deal with many cases of abuse towards elderly people, both in care homes and through home care. Just last month, we helped a family claim compensation on behalf of a 92-year old woman with dementia, who suffered a broken arm and hip after wandering from her care home without staff noticing. In light of the negligence of care workers, and the inadequate response from the management, the family received a five-figure settlement, with insurers accepting liability.

This is just one of the many cases of care home abuse and neglect we deal with on a near-daily basis. And while we recognise the financial strain social care services are under, we believe more must be done to safeguard vulnerable elderly people and prevent such traumatic cases of abuse and neglect.

The Love Our Vulnerable and Elderly (LOVE) Campaign Continues

Love Our Vulnerable Elderly | Care Home Abuse | Hudgell Solicitors

Since February 2016, we’ve campaigned for CCTV systems to become compulsory in UK care homes in a bid to prevent cases of abuse and neglect towards the elderly. And our campaign continues.

In light of the soaring number of elderly abuse cases, we think it’s now more important than ever that people show their support for Love Our Vulnerable Elderly — a campaign to promote care, respect and dignity for elderly people.

In 2016, we launched a petition calling on parliament to make CCTV mandatory in all care and residential homes. The poll collected over 12,000 signatures and received recognition from The Department of Health, which said that it “does not object to the use of CCTV cameras” on a case by case basis”.

While our petition helped to raise awareness of the crucial role CCTV cameras can play in safeguarding vulnerable people, it’s clear that more work is needed to guarantee safety and comfort in care homes. We pledge to continue campaigning until all elderly people are given the respect and dignity they deserve.

To find out more about our work in helping vulnerable elderly people, visit our care home abuse page or call our team now.

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30/06/2017 No Comments

Scandal around ‘secret’ of lost patient records could cost lives and those responsible must be held to account

Filing records


It is nothing short of a scandal that thousands of patients may have suffered harm as a result of more than 700,000 documents – including details such as cancer test results and child protection issues – failed to reach GPs and were left in a warehouse over a five year period.

Even more shocking is the fact that the company responsible for delivering the documents – part owned by the Department of Health – allegedly became aware of the issue in January 2014, but took two years to come clean and inform the Government and NHS England.

It has been called a ‘colossal blunder’ by politicians and a ‘disastrous situation’ by the British Medical Association.

Quite simply, it appears an astonishing case of negligence, worsened by an apparent lack of care and consideration for those put at risk by not informing key people of concerns earlier.

By keeping matter ‘secret’ the significant risk to patients was ignored

In our work as medical negligence claims specialists, our team see day to day the need for speedy diagnosis of serious conditions such as cancer. Early detection is vital and impacts the level of treatment patients may have to undergo.

The National Audit Office (NAO), which has investigated this matter, says the company involved, NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), had become aware of a risk to patients in January 2014.

However, senior managers had not developed a plan to deal with it or tell the government or NHS England for another two years, and only told NHS England and the Department of Health of the issue in March 2016.

Even then, neither Parliament nor the public – the people put at risk by these potentially grave errors – were told. The issue only came publicly to light in February after the Guardian newspaper reported it.

It has been suggested there was a ‘conflict of interest’ between the health secretary’s responsibility for the health service as a whole and his department’s position as a shareholder in NHS SBS.

However, a Department of Health spokeswoman said it was committed to being transparent over the handling of the issue, saying it was given advice not to raise the alarm publicly until it had a better understanding of the problem.

It claimed concerns about patient safety ‘would always outweigh its role as a shareholder in the company’, and that as yet there had still been no proof of harm to patients.

However, given doctors have already raised concerns in 1,788 cases, which are now being individually investigated and overseen by NHS England, that approach already looks a serious error of judgment.

NHS England also said the company had been “obstructive and unhelpful” when it had tried to investigate the issue.

It is a shocking, inexcusable, and unforgiveable situation.

How many have suffered as a result of lost medical records?

The question now is how many people have suffered due to this error?

There are still over 200,000 records which went missing to be reviewed by GPs, and therefore it is highly likely that many more cases in which there is genuine concern will be uncovered.

NHS SBS was employed in the East Midlands, South West and north-west London to redirect mail for the health service between 2011 and 2016.

It was meant to pass on documents that had either been incorrectly addressed or needed re-routing because the patient had moved to a new GP surgery.

People diagnosed with conditions in recent years could now discover it should have been treated much earlier. Even worse, some may never have known their health was a concern at all.

The report by the NAO found the cost of dealing with this incident was likely to be in the region of at least £6.6m.

The human cost, sadly, could prove to be much more, and for that, those found responsible must be held to account.

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27/06/2017 No Comments

Inquests can prove frustrating for families, but can also support legal claims of medical negligence

Nikki at inquest


This week I have been supporting a family through one of the most difficult situations often linked to our work as clinical negligence claims solicitors – an inquest into the unexpected and avoidable death of a loved one.

It is never easy to prepare a family for all that an inquest can entail, other than to warn them that it is highly likely that upsetting details will be revealed, and that they could hear things they disagree with which may leave them unhappy.

For the family of Sheila Hynes, who died following errors made during heart surgery at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, it has proved just that way.

They have come away from the proceedings feeling they still haven’t been given all the answers as to how and why things went wrong, and that the surgeon responsible hasn’t been fully held to account.

Even with the scope of this particular inquest being extended at our request to consider a possible breach of human rights, there was not a feeling of closure for the family, and in inquests where coroner’s record narrative conclusions – which effectively are a summary of the events which unfolded – this can often be the case.

Coroner’s role is not to apportion blame but to establish facts around death

One of the key messages we have to stress to families ahead of an inquest is that the role of the coroner is not to apportion blame.

A coroner’s role is to establish who has died, where they died, when they died and how they came to their death.

This is not to say, however, that the findings of an inquest, and the summary of a coroner, cannot play an important role when a legal case is ongoing.

Indeed, this week’s inquest into the death of Ms Hynes has highlighted many aspects of the case and led to comments which further underline the failings of the surgeon and the hospital during, and after, her operation.

Coroner Karen Dilks was clear in stressing that opportunities were missed to identify and rectify the position of a heart valve when it was inserted wrongly, causing Mrs Hynes acute heart damage from which she could not recover.

The inquest has also crucially played a very important role in identifying that of four similar products manufactured world-wide, only one cannot be inserted upside down. It is an issue of wider concern.

As a result of this case, the coroner said she is writing to the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and to the regulatory body with a view to speeding up a redesign of the valve mounting to prevent it being held in an inverted position in the future.

Although too late for Mrs Hynes, it is of some comfort to her family that the case, and the media attention it has generated, could prevent similar errors being made in the future.

Legal case will now seek civil redress for failings on behalf of Mrs Hynes’ family

As this case has highlighted, our experience is key in explaining where the inquest fits in the ongoing process of making a legal claim.

The next step now for Mrs Hynes family, who have bravely and honestly expressed their heartache and frustration throughout the case, is to bring the legal claim to a successful conclusion.

Sadly, it can never turn back the clock and bring back their much-loved and missed mother and grandmother, but it can ensure people are held to account, and hopefully that vital lessons are learned to prevent similar tragic events in the future.

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26/06/2017 No Comments

Family of woman who died after surgeon implanted heart valve upside down continue to ‘fight for justice’

Heynes Family | Hudgells Solicitors


The family of a woman who died after a surgeon mistakenly implanted a heart valve the wrong way up say the inquest into her death failed to substantially hold him to account for causing her death and has left them asking more questions.

Sheila Mary Hynes, 71, died in intensive care a week after undergoing what her family were assured was routine surgery.

Surgeon Asif Shah, of the renowned Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, has carried out more than 350 open heart operations since starting at the hospital in January 2015 and prior to this week’s inquest.

However, the operation on Mrs Hynes was the first time he had done this particular procedure as the lead consultant.

Surgeon was ‘unaware’ heart valve could be implanted upside down

Mr Shah told an inquest – for which the scope had been extended to allow the coroner to investigate under the Human Rights Act – that the procedure had been ‘going OK’ until the very last moment, when he was tying down the valve and the stitch cord snapped.

He said this meant he needed to remove the valve and hand it to a scrub nurse ready for him to re-fit it. He told coroner Karen DNikki TV ilks that it was at this stage that the valve must have been placed on its mounting the wrong way round – something he was unaware could happen.

As a result he said he inserted the valve the wrong way round and stitched up Mrs Hynes, who never woke from the operation, as the mistake caused irreversible damage to the left ventricle and her heart.

She died in intensive care a week later, after a second operation to try and get her heart working again failed.

Hospital Trust admits breach of duty as part of ongoing negligence claim

Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has admitted full breach of duty, and that the error which caused Ms Hynes death was the insertion of the heart valve the wrong way, as part of ongoing legal action taken by the Mrs Hynes family.

In a narrative conclusion, coroner Ms Dilks said she was led to believe that on the balance of probabilities, the valve was remounted incorrectly, and against manufacturers’ instructions.

She also confirmed that once the error had been made there were missed opportunities to identify and correct the damage done by that error, which ultimately led to Mrs Hynes’ loss of life.

She is now to write to the trust to express her concerns that this issue may have potential to cause future problems, and will request that certain areas be addressed.

Legal action will seek ‘civil redress’ for loss and support General Medical Council investigations

At the conclusion of the three-day inquest this afternoon, the family’s lawyer Nicola Evans, of medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, said that legal action would continue to be pursued.

She revealed that the General Medical Council (GMC) had been in touch with her to confirm they are considering investigating the circumstances of Mrs Hynes death.

She said: “Ever since the tragic and avoidable loss of Sheila in April 2015, her devastated family have battled for answers as to how such a serious, life-taking mistake could be made, and for those responsible to be held to account.

“The inquest scope was extended to give the coroner the ability to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of Sheila’s death by consideration of a breach of a person’s human right to life.

“We welcome today’s narrative conclusion, and the coroner’s comments about writing to the Trust to prevent further situations like this in future. We certainly think there is a need to look carefully at training and use of surgical equipment.

“However, Mrs Hynes family remain of the view that all evidence was not clearly considered, and we will now assist them in seeking civil redress for their loss, and will support the General Medical Council (GMC) with any ongoing investigations.

“Surgeons are aware of the catastrophic results of mistakes such as this, and in this case it has cost a much loved mother, grandmother and great grandmother her life.

“Let us not forget that Sheila’s death was a result of a grave surgical error by Mr Shah. That has been admitted in our legal negotiations, and during this inquest this week.

“I would like to express my thanks to the family for their bravery through such testing times.”

Family vow to continue fighting for justice after inquest concludes

Mrs Hynes daughter, Jan Hopper, of Haltwhistle, Northumberland, says losing her mother in such tragic and unexpected circumstances has ‘destroyed her life too’.

She said: “No matter how many times we hear the reasons for what went wrong and why, we will never be able to overlook the fact that my mother died simply because a highly experienced surgeon didn’t take enough care. It is beyond belief.

“We don’t even know whether to believe the valve was reinserted upside down. We feel Mr Shah was simply incompetent, unsupervised and made a mess of our mother’s heart.

“It was a week after the error, and after my mum had died, that the hospital finally admitted to us that the heart valve had been put in upside down.

“Mr Shah initially told us that he didn’t know why she was bleeding so badly after the operation and indicated they were putting her on life support to give her heart a rest and to prevent it having to work too hard given what it had been through. He never mentioned putting it in upside down.

“It is shocking and can’t end here. We won’t allow it and we’ll continue to fight for justice for mum.”

Mrs Hynes had the operation to replace the aortic and mitral valves after suffering from shortness of breath. The operation was aimed at relieving her symptoms and extending her life, the inquest heard.

Mrs Hopper said her family had encouraged her to have the operation done, adding: “We told her that she had nothing to worry about and that she was going to the Freeman Hospital which was known for its transplants and heart surgery.

“Now we wish we’d never encouraged her as she’d still be with us now.”

Related News:

The Chronicle 

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22/06/2017 No Comments

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