Legal Column, South Tipp Today, 13th February 2014
Most of us, at some point in our lives, will be thankful to health professionals. We may owe them our lives, or the lives of our loved ones. Huge trust is placed in a health professional when you agree to an operation or even when you hold out your arm to get an injection. When things go wrong the reaction of an injured patient or their family is an emotional one: there is a strong sense of the breach of this trust.
One medical error occurs every six minutes
Unfortunately, things do go wrong and this trust is tested.
Figures released by the HSE on the 9th of October 2012 showed 85,918 adverse clinical medical incidents in 2011. This means that there were 235 errors every 24 hours, which is the equivalent to 1 error every six minutes.
The most recent breakdown of statistics showed that one in three of the claims that is going to be brought will be in the area Obstetrics or Gynaecology. Child birth, in particular, is fraught with difficulties and the medical treatment afforded the least margin for error, and, when things go wrong, catastrophic consequences almost always occur.
It is also interesting that Accident and Emergency Accidents account for 1 in 10 of all cases brought.
94% of claims under this heading were due to failure to make the correct diagnosis and of these three quarters related to broken bones or other musculosketal disorders.
Breach of Trust
As a mother first and a lawyer second, I felt a strong sense of the breach of this trust when watching last week’s Prime Time ‘Fatal Failures’ programme.
This programme (Prime Time ‘Fatal Failures’) investigated the death of four babies over six years at the Maternity Unit in the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise.
In the cases it examined, RTÉ found that “there were no congenital abnormalities, meaning the babies did not have a physical condition where their ability to survive was diminished resulting in death. Therefore, other factors led to their deaths”.
In one case it was reported that after the death the family were told different reasons for why their baby died, including that his organs were too heavy; he had showed signs of Down syndrome and wouldn’t have survived; and that a heavy blow during pregnancy could have caused his death.
In another case the family was told that it was rare that a baby died in Portlaoise hospital. This family spent two years trying to find out what went wrong and if it was, in fact, a stillbirth in the case of their baby. They eventually found hospital records which recorded that baby Mark had a heartbeat at birth. Mark’s death was then reclassified as a neo-natal death and an inquest was held.
Need for Answers
Having dealt with Medical Negligence cases I find that injured patients hire Solicitors, not because of the desire to obtain compensation, instead they are driven by a real need and desire to get answers about what happened and why. People are frustrated by the inability to get answers and driven by the desire to get a simple apology.
There is a perception amongst injured patients and their families that when something goes wrong, it is difficult to get straightforward answers to straightforward questions.
Embarking on a medical negligence cases is not for the fainthearted. Medical negligence cases are David v Goliath type challenges. They involve you (an individual) taking on the State which has deeper pockets and no emotional stake in the outcome.