Posted on 23 Sep 2013

Neglect at Royal Cornwall Hospital

Michelmores' Oliver Thorne comments on the reported failures at the hospital, and considers how best to get answers in situations of this kind.

The background

Negligent hospital care has left a man too weak for the surgery that could save his life, according to the Cornish Guardian. Gordon Tift, who entered hospital for surgery to remove heart blockages and have angioplasty on his legs and groin, suffered such poor treatment that hospice care may now be the only course of action available to him.

Having been told that cardiac surgery was imperative, 69-year-old Tift then waited for nearly 12 weeks while his condition gradually deteriorated. A litany of other failings, including poor hygiene and allowing him to develop pressure sores, has led Tift's daughter Deborah to fear that he may not leave hospital alive. 

It has been alleged that, during his stay at the Royal Cornwall, he was also prescribed a morphine overdose leading to kidney damage. He was fed in unsanitary conditions, and at one point developed an E. coli infection.

Seeking amends

These are pretty egregious failings, and really encapsulate a lot of the work of a clinical negligence team. What makes this so shocking is the systematic nature of the neglect; a trail of events which, in and of themselves, might not have been catastrophic, but which add up to a situation where a person's life is in danger. This tells you that the hospital suffers from institutional problems, and that is dangerous.

What concerns me is that some of these failings are 'never' events: care failings so damaging, and so preventable, that they simply shouldn't happen. Bed sores and certain kinds of morphine overdose fall into this category, and it isn't just a sensationalist naming exercise - never events are a symptom, a warning sign that a hospital needs serious change, and not just convenient tweaks behind closed doors.

Often in these kinds of cases, what the claimant really wants is an admission of liability and an apology, although hospital trusts are often very reluctant to provide this. A negligence claim can bring you closer to that aim, as the work of the solicitors helps to uncover the real detail behind the failings. We try to serve a dual purpose: helping a claimant find redress for the harm they've suffered, while also holding a mirror up to the medical profession, asking questions of it, showing it where it needs to change.

It can be a difficult road for the person making a claim, and we try to make that as easy as possible. It isn't about bashing the NHS, because we know the kinds of constraints they operate under; but, ultimately, patients need to feel that their consultants and nurses are accountable, and that wrongs of the kind we've seen at Royal Cornwall are put right, insofar as they can be.

To read Michelmores' commentary on 'never' events, click here.

To see the news Cornish Guardian's news article on Gordon Tift, click here.

If you would like to discuss a claim relating to negligent hospital treatment, you can call our specialist clinical negligence team free for discreet, impartial advice.