PERSONAL INJURY NEWS ROUNDUP: 7 DAYS ENDED 4 FEB 2014:
So it’s not news that people always blame personal injury solicitors for high legal costs, but could it be that the newest row is just a distraction tactic?
So I know it sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory, but leave off judgment until the end, will you? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think. Sure, there was a bit of a tussle caused when last year’s NHS legal bill was composed of some £200 million in legal fees alone – fees that are being amassed by ambulance-chasing medical negligence solicitors.
Truth be told there are some shady characters in the legal industry, but these are the exception and not the norm. The squeaky wheel certainly gets the grease, that’s true enough, but we can’t let a handful of right bastards sour us on the entirety of the legal community – especially not when there’s other more serious things going on.
For instance, isn’t it just a bit too convenient that this NHS data comes forward just as the Government announced it will be removing personal injury claims for mesothelioma’s exemption to the Legal Aid act? It’s true – now any claim for mesothelioma will be treated like any other bog standard personal injury compensation claim despite the fact that they’re so terribly different.
If you don’t know – and you probably do – mesothelioma takes decades to manifest thanks to the slow-acting damage that asbestos fibres cause to the lungs, and it’s not uncommon that the original firms that a worker had been employed by thirty or forty years ago to be shuttered today, leaving mesothelioma sufferers no recourse. Removing exemption status from mesothelioma claims means that the Legal Aid Act’s many limitations come into full effect – and this could mean ruin for anyone who’s suffering from the disease.
So like I said, how come this NHS nonsense comes forward just as the Government guts access to justice for mesothelioma sufferers? It seems awfully convenient, and that makes me think that medical negligence solicitors are being hung out to dry in an effort to dodge the spotlight. Even if it wasn’t done intentionally it’s certainly the result, wouldn’t you agree?
Another firm of personal injury solicitors has spoken out against the government’s plans to withdraw the right to Legal Aid for victims of medical negligence.
Attwaters, a Harlow law firm, says vulnerable members of society will no longer be able to claim compensation because restrictions on success fees will deter medical negligence solicitors from taking no win no fee cases.
David Kerry, a partner in the firm as well as a clinical negligence specialist, said justice ministers should rethink the current proposals. A lot of firms believe that withdrawing Legal Aid will mean that a lot of people who have suffered at the hands of negligent medical professionals will be denied the justice they deserve.
The only option open to many of them will be to find a solicitor who will take their case on a no win no fee basis. However, the government also intends to put restrictions on success fees and some solicitors may be reluctant to take on complex cases.
This could have devastating results for families when a baby is born with permanent brain damage. They will be unable to get the financial support they need to take care of the child’s lifetime needs.
Rob Halfon, the Tory MP for Harlow, recently met with Mr Kerry to discuss the issue and promised to pressurize Jonathan Djanogly, the Justice Minister, into making concessions to the Legal Aid Bill.
A firm of medical negligence solicitors, based in Oxford, has expressed its support for the House of Lords peers who do not want the government to stop medical negligence claimants receiving legal aid.
Baroness Eaton, a Tory peer, explained that the most vulnerable members of society should be provided with a safety net.
Lord Thomas of Gresford, a Lib Dem peer, suggested that instead of abolishing legal aid, it should be dictated by the severity of an injury. He explained that people’s lives are sometimes altered forever because of the negligence of the medical profession and in those circumstances a humane society should cover the cost of pursuing the resultant medical negligence and personal injury claims.
Richard Money-Kyrle, a clinical negligence expert at Darbys Solicitors LLP, said that if the government removes the legal aid provision it’s as good as denying compensation to the least well off members of our society, particularly as the no win no fee system is also being dismantled.
He went on to say that the proposed changes to the no win no fee system will see claimants settling their legal fees out of their personal injury compensation, rather than the current system whereby the person at fault is responsible for the costs. The government’s proposals will leave a lot of people without access to justice, he added.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness, Advocate General and supporter of removing legal aid from medical negligence cases said he would seriously consider ministers’ concerns.
Personal injury solicitors could find themselves dealing with a deluge of medical negligence claims after medical experts warned that doctors are not explaining to their patients that they can suffer withdrawal symptoms when they stop using antidepressants.
In 2010 doctors in England wrote 43 million prescriptions for antidepressants; a 94% increase since the turn of the century. By far the steepest increase was for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, increasing by more than 100% to 23.1 million. Doctors widely believed that SSRIs were safer and more effective than other antidepressants.
However, several medical experts have now said that these drugs have the potential to give the patient distressing withdrawal symptoms and doctors should be informing them of that fact. Failure to do so could result in a flood of clinical negligence claims against UK GPs.
One GP admitted that SSRIs are addictive and doctors do not want to admit it. Patients find it hard to come off the drugs and soon they will start visiting medical negligence solicitors and filing a claim for compensation.
Professor of clinical pharmacology, Heather Ashton, said doctors have overlooked the potential dependence on SSRIs and benzodiazepines, such as valium, and that has cast shame of a profession that lays claims to being scientifically based. It should be obvious that where one drug replaces another, there must be some common characteristics.
Although controversial, it has been common practice in the UK to treat psychological and social illnesses with drugs for the last six decades. Doctors are now seeing an increase in claims from patients who have become addicted to benzodiazepines and a similar scenario is likely to happen now that SSRIs are so widely prescribed.
Distraught families in the north west of England are making use of the services provided by personal injury solicitors after several of them decided to sue the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust for serious medical negligence.
Medical negligence solicitors confirmed last week that they will be filing personal injury claims for a number of mothers who received treatment at the UHMBT’s Barrow centre.
The hospital trust has already been it must improve its standards of care or face closure. It is also being scrutinised over high mortality rates and an appointment system that is in so much disarray that patients suffer delays in their treatment.
UHMBT was not the only NHS trust to make the headlines last week. The Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust was accused of abuse and unprofessional behaviour in a maternity unit where five mothers did not survive childbirth during an 18 month period.
Inspectors were horrified to hear a story about a woman with contractions being turned away by midwives. In another episode, a woman in labour was told that if she didn’t hurry up, she would be cut.
The Care Quality Commission has been conducting spot checks on UK hospitals and the results of their investigations are not good. Earlier this year, 20% of hospitals were bound to be breaching the law by leaving patients unwashed and hungry.
The Royal College of Midwives’ deputy general secretary, Louise Silverton, has admitted that deficiencies exist throughout the maternity system.
A House of Lords committee has claimed that EU rules are putting patients at an unacceptable level of risk, a situation that could see more medical negligence cases being filed against the NHS.
Free movement of labour is at the very heart of the problem, the committee explained. Regulatory bodies should be allowed to test the English language ability of every dentist, doctor, midwife, nurse and pharmacist who wants to work in the UK. Furthermore, disciplinary information must be shared between countries when medical staff choose to work abroad.
Allowing doctors to work anywhere in the EEA has become a controversial issue in this country recently. One high profile case that involved medical negligence solicitors surrounded the German locum, Daniel Ubani. He administered a fatal overdose of painkiller to a 70-year-old man whilst working on his one and only shift in a British hospital.
Ubani had been rejected by a hospital in Leeds because he had poor English skills and yet he was hired by another trust. And despite receiving a suspended sentence in his country of birth, he is still working there.
Baroness Young, the chair of the committee, said our patients are being failed by the EU and it is totally unacceptable that they are put at risk by EU regulations. Whilst we accept that mobility can be beneficial, this should not be at the expense of patient care.
The chief executive of the GMC, Niall Dickson, said patient safety should always come first and urgent changes need to be made to EU rules.
Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, recently said it was completely unacceptable to have doctors working in the NHS if they aren’t able to speak English properly.
The NHS has been under fire for paying out huge sums in medical negligence compensation. Testing the language skills of incoming medics may go some way towards rectifying this problem.
A hospital trust in Yorkshire has already paid £1 million in personal injury compensation to ten patients that underwent surgery which went seriously wrong. It now faces an additional 85 complaints in what is set to become one of the largest medical negligence claims against one individual surgeon.
The surgeon in question, Manjit Bharma, has been referred to the GMC on two occasions but is now operating out of a different hospital which says it has no concerns about employing him.
Whilst working as an orthopaedic surgeon at Rotherham Hospital, the 55 year old is charged with leaving patients who had hip replacement operations in so much pain that they were unable to leave their homes. Ten cases have been settled so far with compensation awards of between £1,750 and £500,000 being paid to victims.
Medical negligence solicitors are now considering the new wave of complaints, most of which surround the surgeon’s last two years at the Rotherham Hospital. The personal injury solicitors said they were amazed at how many patients have contacted them.
Despite this deluge of complaints, Bharma now works at Wakefield’s Pinderfields General Hospital and for the private Care UK Group.
A lawyer from Irwin Mitchell explained that the firm has raised concerns with the GMC over the sheer number of complaints but has not received a response.
Surely very loud alarm bells should be ringing in the hospitals concerned if a surgeon has nearly 100 complaints raised against him.
The trial of Conrad Murray, the US doctor accused of committing medical negligence and involuntary manslaughter, began earlier this week in Los Angeles.
Will medical negligence and personal injury solicitors be able to learn anything from this high profile case? The proceedings will no doubt be widely covered by the media who have already informed us that eight out of the twelve jurors are Michael Jackson fans.
Dr Murray has admitted prescribing sedatives to Jackson, including the drug Propofol, an anaesthetic which helps patients with insomnia to go to sleep. Solicitors acting on behalf of Murray claim that the prescribed doses would not have caused Jackson’s death and that the singer had been taking more than the recommended dose.
The defence team have already suffered a serious setback when the court denied them permission to show footage of the singer’s final UK news conference. The team says this footage showed that Michael Jackson was ‘under the influence’ of drugs in the period leading up to his planned comeback concerts in London.
Medical examiners have already determined that Jackson died due to an overdose of sedatives and Propofol. The burning question is whether or not the singer ignored the advice of his physician.
The jury will have a very difficult task when it comes to determining a verdict and if Dr Murray is found guilty, will Jackson’s family then be able to claim to engage medical negligence solicitors and claim compensation from him? One feels that the backwash of this case could carry on for many years to come.
A dangerous shortage of midwives in the UK could lead to an increase in the number of medical negligence claims, claims a partner at Irwin Mitchell.
Medical negligence solicitor, Mandy Luckman, said it is imperative that the NHS and the coalition does everything possible to address the midwife shortage that affects many areas of the UK.
The English birth rate has increased 22% over the past twenty years but midwife numbers have not risen at a comparable rate. The RCM says that an additional 4,700 midwives are needed in England to cope with additional pressures, such as the growing numbers of older women who are giving birth.
Whilst the North West and North East of the country are less than 10% understaffed, the East of England and the East Midlands need 41% extra midwives. The South East of England also needs at least 33% more. The problem only seems to occur in England. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are not witnessing midwife shortages at present.
According to the RCM, a maternity unit seeing 3,000 births per year needs about 91 midwives. We are now seeing more complex births and these take up more of a midwife’s time. Coupled with a rising birth rate, the lack of qualified professionals is threatening maternity care. Many maternity units are under-staffed and this could lead to more mothers filing claims for personal injury compensation.
The Department of Health is trying to address the problem and 2,490 midwifery training places are planned for this year. A spokesperson for the DoH also said that 94% of women were happy with the maternity care they received last year.
One of the health reforms the government intends to make is to require hospitals to inform patients when mistakes have been made.
Although Action Against Medical Accidents has been campaigning for this for a long time, the plan falls short of what is required.
The majority of patients would be shocked to discover that there is no requirement for hospitals to tell them if things have gone wrong. Hospitals are not sanctioned if they fail to disclose mistakes, and considering that medical negligence can lead to death, this is particularly shocking.
Medicine is very complex and sometimes patients leave an appointment confused. If their doctor makes a wrong diagnosis, or treatment does not work effectively, they may not know that an error has been made and a medical negligence solicitor may be able to secure personal injury compensation for them.
When a patient does make a complaint, administrators rather than doctors usually handle the response. Personal injury solicitors will have experience of responses that are not truthful; some attempt to cover up the error by creating a smokescreen of detail whilst other responses are deliberately misleading.
Medical negligence solicitors often hear from patients who were not told that a serious error occurred during their care. In fact less than 25% of NHS Trusts inform patients of safety incidents as a matter of routine and 6% never tell their patients.
The National Patient Safety Agency claims that up to one million safety incidents occur every year in England and 50% of them will cause harm. Despite this, only 6,000 medical negligence claims were reported last year.
Although the government wants hospitals to own up to their mistakes, it is withdrawing legal aid for clinical negligence claimants. What is worse; not knowing a mistake has been made or knowing there was negligence and being able to do nothing about it?
Oxfordshire hospitals cost the NHS more in medical negligence compensation last year than any other area of England.
A total of £13 million was awarded to patients who had suffered negligence at a hospital managed by the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust. Legal and medical negligence solicitors’ costs cost the Trust a further £2.3 million.
£13 million is the highest amount ever paid out since the clinical negligence system began in 2003. No data is available to say how many personal injury claims this money covered.
Dr Peter Skolar, the Oxfordshire watchdog chief, said this was an enormous sum of money that the NHS should be spending on treating patients. The ex-GP blamed the personal injury compensation culture that is currently rife in the UK for the huge rise in compensation awards. Skolar agreed that patients who had suffered clinical negligence were entitled to compensation but said we are taking it too far.
Personal injury solicitors, on the other hand, claim that the higher payouts are a result of the rising cost of patient care. Common payouts include sums for children who developed cerebral palsy as a result of negligence during birth.
One solicitor explained that the majority of cases were avoidable but more money was needed so that hospitals could take on more doctors and nurses. He also pointed out that the no win no fee system has led to an increase in the number of claims.
More and more people are opting for cosmetic surgery, but sometimes striving to have the perfect face or body can go seriously wrong.
In the United States, there are now “revision” doctors to put right the mistakes of cosmetic surgeons. And an increasing number of patients are seeking medical negligence compensation.
A UK businesswoman won £6 million personal injury compensation earlier this year after cosmetic surgery left her paralysed down one side of her face.
The most common form of cosmetic surgery in the UK is breast implant surgery. Although around 8,000 women have this procedure every year, complications can occur. Any doctor can set himself up as a cosmetic or plastic surgeon even though he may not have received any surgical training! It’s therefore important to ensure your surgeon belongs to the British Association of Plastic Surgeons.
Janet Allan, a legal expert at Thompsons Solicitors, a leading firm of personal injury solicitors, said patients must be aware that there may be a gap between their expectations and what can actually be achieved.
She went on to point out that patients having surgery at a private clinic should always check that insurance cover is in place in case something goes wrong. Filing a medical negligence claim against a clinic without insurance could result in zero compensation.
Anyone who believes that their cosmetic surgery has gone wrong will need to prove that they received substandard care and that that care was responsible for the outcome. The best thing to do if you find yourself in this sort of situation is to contact a firm of specialist medical negligence solicitors who have experience in dealing with similar lawsuits.