Elderly medical negligence cases in jeopardy
Cases of maltreatment towards elderly people in hospitals and care homes is a common topic in today’s media, but a proposed Government change could result in many future incidents slipping through the net. Lord Justice Jackson recommends that there be a limit to legal fees, where claims for damages are worth less than £25,000. We believe many cases will not get the justice they deserve.
We share our recent experience of elderly negligence, and fears for the effects the Government’s fixed-fee plan could have. Our Medical Negligence team were recently successful in winning a case brought to our attention by a son, regarding the negligent care of his elderly mother, which resulted in her untimely death.
The patient, Mrs. Rosa Smith who lived in Waltham Abbey and was in her eighties, was taken to the Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH) in Harlow, in October 2014, following a collapse. Her condition deteriorated and she was admitted to the high-dependency unit. However, she responded well to treatment and was about to be discharged when she developed severe gastric symptoms. The ward she had been sent to when she was discharged from the high-dependency unit had been closed, due to an outbreak of norovirus.
Her condition rapidly deteriorated over the next two days; she developed renal problems and her consciousness decreased. Her family expressed their concerns, as they didn’t feel that staff were responding appropriately to her decline. Sadly, Mrs. Smith died whilst being reviewed by the critical care outreach team.
Following her death, the hospital carried out a review and completed a comprehensive Root Cause Analysis Investigation Report, which noted several major issues with her care. These included a failure by medical staff to follow the escalation process, the non-responsiveness of the on-call doctor and the failure to follow oxygen prescribing guidelines.
The report also cited contributory factors, including staffing issues following the norovirus outbreak, a lack of a senior review of the patient overnight, failure to record the patient’s respiratory rate, and inaccurate completion of observation charts.
The Hospital failed to accept legal responsibility early on in the case, despite there being the rather damning Investigation Report prepared by the Hospital Trust, causing additional stress for Mrs. Smith’s family. After several months, Princess Alexandra Hospital finally admitted liability and settled the claim.
Craig Knightley, Medical Negligence Solicitor at Attwaters Jameson Hill, who represented Mrs. Smith’s son, said: “We are passionately opposed to the introduction of fixed fees for cases such as this. It is so important to bring evidence of poor treatment to light, to enforce better care for the elderly and other vulnerable patients and raise the bar of what is and isn’t acceptable.
“Sadly, if Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations are passed, then it will be almost impossible to tackle cases of this nature in the future, they simply will not be viable to investigate, which will lead to injustice and potentially even worse care for some of the most vulnerable people in society”.