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Couple Awarded Medical Negligence Compensation for the Death of a Baby

A couple have been awarded €70,000 medical negligence compensation for the death of a baby son after an approval hearing at the High Court.

Fiona Watters was admitted into the Cavan General Hospital on 20th November 2012 in the later stages of her first pregnancy. Fiona´s waters broke at 10:30am on the morning of 22nd November and she was administered Prostiglandin to accelerate her labour.

During the day the levels of Prostiglandin were increased. At 9:30pm that evening a natural birth was attempted but, after an hour of pushing, the midwife rang consultant obstetrician Dr Salah Aziz to inform him that the baby´s head was not visible and the indications were that the baby was suffering foetal distress.

Dr Aziz arrived at the Labour Ward to discover that another Caesarean Section operation was taking place in the only out-of-hours theatre. He attempted both a forceps delivery and a vacuum delivery – both of which failed. When the theatre became available, Fiona underwent an emergency Caesarean Section operation, but her son – Jamie – was delivered in a very poor condition.

Jamie was transferred to the special care baby unit at the Rotunda Hospital, where he tragically died two days later in his mother´s arms. An initial investigation into the cause of Jamie´s death was quashed by the High Court in August 2013 after Dr Aziz successfully argued that HSE investigators had not followed the correct procedures.

However Fiona and her partner – Francis Flynn – had already received an advanced copy of the report and, after seeking legal advice, they claimed medical negligence compensation for the death of a baby against Cavan General Hospital and the HSE.

The HSE failed to acknowledge liability for Jamie´s death until almost a year later and only then commissioned a second investigation into the events leading up to Jamie´s delivery. However, this time the investigation was to be carried out by an independent review team following the subsequent deaths of two more children at the Cavan General Hospital.

In December 2014, an inquest into Jamie´s death attributed it to medical misadventure. The coroner said that the increased administration of Prostiglandin, Dr Aziz´s failure to inform the registrar that the Jamie´s delivery was expected that evening and the lack of a second out-of-hours theatre at the hospital were all causative events for Jamie´s death.

Following the coroner´s verdict, negotiations started with the State Claims Agency to settle the claim for medical negligence compensation for the death of a baby. Due to the traumatic circumstances leading up to Jamie´s birth and the protracted investigations into Jamie´s death, a settlement of €70,000 was agreed.

Earlier this week a hearing at the High Court took place to approve the settlement. Mr Justice Richard Humphreys heard that the size of the settlement reflected the long-lasting grief and distress that had been suffered by Jamie´s parents. Judge Humphreys approved the settlement, stipulating that €5,000 of the settlement should be paid into court funds for the benefit of Fiona and Francis´ daughter.

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Widow to Receive Compensation for the Failure to Diagnose Meningitis after Hearing

A widow, who was told her husband was suffering from constipation, is to receive compensation for the failure to diagnose meningitis following his death.

On 26th May 2010, Philip Morrissey (39) from Kilkenny attended his GP complaining of a high temperature, a headache and earache. He was referred to the Accident & Emergency department of St Luke´s Hospital in Kilkenny, where he was admitted with a high pulse rate and complaining of an intolerance to light.

Six hours after being admitted, Philip appeared to his wife – Gail – to be disorientated and drowsy. She raised her concerns with medical staff and was told that his condition was attributable to constipation. However, the following morning Philip was found slumped in his bed having suffered a cardiac arrest. His cardiac arrest was later identified as having been triggered by streptococcal pneumonia meningitis.

After seeking legal advice, Gail claimed compensation for the failure to diagnose meningitis against the Health Service Executive (HSE). She alleged that Philip had not been seen by a doctor since 3:40pm on the day prior to his death, and that there had been a failure to consider his symptoms attributable to meningitis, to correctly diagnose his condition and treat it.

Following an investigation into the circumstances of Philip´s death, the HSE admitted liability and a settlement of Gail´s claim was negotiated amounting to €455,000. Due to the nature of Philip´s death, the settlement of compensation for the failure to diagnose meningitis had to be approved, and consequently the case was presented to Mr Justice Michael Hanna at the High Court.

After the judge heard the circumstances of Philip´s death, a statement was read out to the family by a representative of the HSE apologising for the standard of care Philip had received. Judge Hanna then approved the settlement of compensation for the failure to diagnose meningitis – commenting that a “huge tragedy” had befallen the family and, while money could never compensate for Philip´s loss, it was the best the law could do.

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Award of High Court Compensation for Cerebral Palsy Upheld on Appeal

An award of High Court compensation for cerebral palsy has been upheld on appeal, but the case may still have to go before the Supreme Court to be resolved.

On 12th July 2006, Gill Russell from Aghada in County Cork was born suffering from dyskinetic cerebral palsy following a “prolonged and totally chaotic” delivery at the Erinville Hospital. On her son´s behalf, Karen Russell made a medical negligence compensation claim against the Health Service Executive (HSE) and, after liability had been admitted, Gill was awarded an interim settlement of High Court compensation for cerebral palsy.

In December 2014, the medical negligence compensation claim against the HSE was resolved €13.5 million – the largest ever award of High Court compensation for cerebral palsy. The HSE appealed the settlement of the claim – arguing that Mr Justice Kevin Cross had used a lower rate of interest than was traditionally used in Irish courts to calculate the return to investment of the lump sum.

However, earlier this week at the Appeals Court, a three-judge panel upheld the settlement of High Court compensation for cerebral palsy. The judges said that using the higher rate of interest would result in a catastrophically injured person having to take “unjust and unacceptable” risks with the investment of the lump sum to ensure their financial security.

One of the three-judge panel – Ms Justice Mary Irvine – said it was not the courts´ function to decide how a claimant was likely to invest their award for the purposes of determining its value. She added that the Russell family and the HSE would not be in this position had the government not failed to introduce legislation that would permit structured periodic payments.

The decision of the Appeal Court judges is unlikely to resolve the medical negligence compensation claim against the HSE. Warning that the calculation of High Court compensation for cerebral palsy set a precedent that could cost the State Claims Agency and the insurance industry up to €10 billion over the next decade, the HSE has indicated that it will take the case to the Supreme Court.

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Judge Increases Award made by Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal

A High Court judge has increased an award made by the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal after hearing an appeal from a woman who developed encephalopathy.

The unnamed plaintiff was one of thousands of women who in 1977 were given an anti-D immunoglobulin blood transfusion infected with Hepatitis C. In 1998, the plaintiff had been awarded €298,000 by the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal, but she had returned to the Tribunal earlier this year, seeking more compensation after developing “life destroying” side effects of brain damage and cirrhosis of the liver.

The Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal awarded the plaintiff a further €180,000 but, on the basis that a previous case had been settled for €250,000 after a woman had developed similar injuries, the plaintiff appealed the decision to the High Court. The Minister for Health opposed the plaintiff´s appeal on the grounds that the case was different to the one in which the higher award was made.

The Minister of Health argued that the plaintiff received treatment for Hepatitis C before her condition was diagnosed. However, at the High Court, Mr Justice Bernard Barton heard that the plaintiff´s “decompensated cirrhosis” had been triggered by the ribavirin therapy she had undergone in 2013 to treat the Hepatitis C virus after tests revealed a serious deterioration of her liver.

The judge also heard that the plaintiff had developed encephalopathy as a result of her treatment – a side effect which manifests as slurred speech and forgetfulness, and which is irreversible and requires ongoing medical treatment to control its effects. The encephalopathy condition had resulted in severe mental anguish it was claimed.

Judge Barton found in the plaintiff´s favour – saying that the High Court had the jurisdiction to compensate the woman for the pain and suffering arising out of the treatment she underwent in 2013. The judge said that it was “only fair and reasonable” that the award by the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal be increased to €250,000 to reflect the full and independent life that the plaintiff could no longer lead.

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Claims for Negligent Hysterectomy Procedures made by Seven Patients

Seven former patients of a gynaecologist, recently found negligent by the Medical Council, have made claims for negligent hysterectomy procedures.

The claims for negligent hysterectomy procedures all relate to the treatment provided by Dr Peter Van Greene at the Aut Even private hospital in Kilkenny between 2009 and 2011, and were made prior to a hearing of the Medical Council´s Fitness to Practise Committee last week which found the gynaecologist guilty on two counts of a poor professional performance.

The complaints against Dr Van Greene were brought by Helen Cruise and three other women who remained anonymous – Helen having undergone a hysterectomy at the Kilkenny hospital without the gynaecologist having obtained her informed consent before the procedure. Helen claims that the standard of treatment she received has left her with depression ever since.

During the hearing of the Medical Council´s Fitness to Practise Committee, Helen testified that the procedure and the potential risks involved had only been explained to her after she had been administered a spinal anaesthetic. She also needed six units of blood due to excessive post-operative bleeding following her operation.

The Committee – that has the option of fining Dr Van Greene or striking him from the medical register – also heard that Dr Van Greene applied for bankruptcy in the UK earlier this year and is currently unemployed. He was most recently employed at the Whitfield Clinic in Waterford while investigations were ongoing into the allegations made by the four women.

Dr Van Greene´s bankrupt status will not prevent the seven former patients from recovering compensation if their claims for negligent hysterectomy procedures are successful. Any settlements of compensation will be paid by Dr Van Greene´s former medical indemnity insurance company.

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Hospital Dental Care Claims Disputed by Health Minister

The Health Minister has disputed hospital dental care claims that up to ten thousand children each year are having teeth unnecessarily extracted.

The hospital dental care claims were made at the annual seminar in Carlow for dentists working in the Health Service Executive, where delegates were told that cuts in free dental care in Ireland were to blame for an increase in chronic oral infections, which in turn resulted in ten thousand children under the age of fifteen having multiple extractions under anaesthetic in hospitals.

Speaking at the seminar, Anne Twomey – president of the Irish Dental Association (IDA) – said “ninety-five percent of these cases would have been avoidable if they had been detected and treated earlier.” She added that the cuts had resulted in less education about oral hygiene being available and the undermining of a highly effective schools screening service.

The IDA said that it warned the government five years ago about the impact of cuts to dental care in Ireland, and claim that the cost of the unnecessary extractions would ultimately be many multiples of the money that had been saved. The Association presented anecdotal evidence that children were being admitted to hospital for IV antibiotics to treat oral infections while they waited for hospital dental care.

However Health Minister Leo Varadkar has disputed the accuracy of the hospital dental care claims. The Minister told reporters that the figures he has seen indicate that 3,600 dental extractions under anaesthetic were conducted on children under the age of fifteen last year. He said “I think we need to know all the facts before jumping to conclusions”.

Mr Varadkar also disputed the accuracy of hospital dental care claims that suggested avoidable extractions were five times the rate of the UK. “The number of publicly-employed dentists has gone down from about 312 to 300 in the last couple of years”, he said, “so there hasn´t been a significant reduction in the number of publicly-employed dentists”.

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Family Make Claim for Wrongful Death due to Medical Misadventure

The family of a woman who died from organ failure after undergoing a hernia operation have made a claim for wrongful death due to medical misadventure.

On 13th July 2013, Susan McGee (52) – a mother of two from Rush in County Dublin – went to the Hermitage Medical Clinic in Dublin for what was supposed to be a routine hernia operation. The operation initially appeared to be successful, and Susan was discharged from the Hermitage three days later on 16th July to be cared for by her daughter.

The following day (17th July), Susan complained of having an abdominal pain and feeling unwell. Her daughter took her back to the Hermitage, where Susan was readmitted for observation. Over the weekend of 20th and 21st July, Susan´s condition deteriorated and on 22nd July a CT scan revealed a mass in her small bowel.

Susan underwent surgery the same day to have the obstruction removed, but her health continued to deteriorate. Susan was transferred to the intensive care department of the Beaumont Hospital on 23rd July, but she died the following day from multiple organ failure caused by sepsis – the sepsis having been triggered by a C.difficle infection.

The inquest into Susan´s death was eventually held in June 2015. Dublin City Coroner´s Court heard that several errors had been made in Susan´s care, including a failure to report brown faecal fluid draining from Susan´s nasogastric tube and a failure to record Susan´s vital signs between 8:00am and 6:00pm on Sunday 21st July – three days before she died.

The inquest also heard that over the weekend of 20th and 21st July only one resident medical officer was on duty – Dr Lachman Pahwani. Dr Pahwani testified that he had tried to spend as much time with Susan as possible – aware that she was in a poorly condition – but Susan was one of 81 patients that he had responsibility for at the medical facility at the time.

Following the inquest, Susan´s family sought legal advice and made a claim for wrongful death due to medical misadventure – the verdict that the inquest had delivered. A spokesperson for the family said that a summons has now been issued and served on the Hermitage Medical Clinic.

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Organisation Calls for more Openness in Hospital Negligence Claims

The Medical Injuries Alliance has repeated its call for “Duty of Candour” legislation so that there is more openness in hospital negligence claims.

The Medical Injuries Alliance is an organisation that works with patients injured by medical mistakes to get answers about how the injuries occurred. Among the organisation´s objectives is the promotion of studies that help to understand the why medical mistakes occur, so that safety improvements in Irish hospitals can be made.

In order to meet their objectives, the Alliance has repeatedly called for politicians to introduce “Duty of Candour” legislation – legislation that would promote openness in hospital negligence claims by forcing healthcare professionals and Irish hospitals to admit when medical mistakes have been made, to explain why they happened, and to issue an apology immediately.

The Alliance has already issued a statement on its website that “the duty of candour in hospitals and doctors should be placed on a statutory footing, entitling injured patients to an accurate account of how they came to suffer medical injury in Irish hospitals”, and, to repeat its call for more openness in hospital negligence claims, the message has now been taken to the press.

Last week an article appeared in the Irish Times commenting on a cerebral palsy claim that took nine years to resolve due to a lack of openness in hospital negligence claims and alleged “stonewalling” by the Health Service Executive (HSE). The article concluded by saying that duty of candour laws were introduced in the UK last year, and that similar legislation is clearly needed in Ireland.

In response to that article, a letter from the Secretary of the Medical Injuries Alliance – Joice McCarthy – was published. In the letter, Ms McCarthy agreed with the comments within the article and made her own observations that many victims of hospital negligence are forced to take legal action to get the answers to the questions that healthcare professionals and hospitals are unwilling to give.

Ms McCarthy commented that patients who have been through the legal process describe it as a stressful and protracted experience, and she alluded to the recent “shabby episode” in which there was a disagreement between the HSE and the State Claims Agency about who was responsible for delays in settling a six-year hospital negligence claim. Ms McCarthy concluded her letter:

“Instead of blaming any particular State organisation, or indeed having different State organisations blame one another for the current difficulties, it is high time politicians simply acted to introduce a legal duty of candour in order to fix what seems to be a glaringly obvious problem”.

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HSE Medical Negligence Apology “Six Years Too Late”

The parents of a girl who died shortly after her birth have rejected the HSE medical negligence apology given at her inquest as being “six years too late”.

Caoimhe was born to Joan and John Mulcair at the Midland Regional Hospital in Limerick on 11th February 2009. Joan and John were overjoyed at the birth of a daughter that they had been trying to conceive for four years; but, soon after baby Caoimhe´s birth, it was noticed that she was not crying as new born babies should. Caoimhe was taken to the hospital´s special care unit, but died in her mother´s arms thirty-nine minutes after being born.

Joan and John made a claim for medical negligence compensation against the Midland General Hospital and the Health Service Executive (HSE), claiming that a failure to act on a deceleration in the foetal heart rate had resulted in Caoimhe´s brain being deprived of oxygen. The HSE denied that Caoimhe´s death was attributable to medical negligence until December last year, when the family´s claim for medical negligence compensation was settled for an undisclosed amount.

Last week, a jury at Limerick courthouse returned a verdict of death by medical misadventure after hearing that a deceleration of the foetal heartbeat had been recorded during Joan´s labour, and death was due to a lack of blood and oxygen supply to the brain. During the inquest hearing, Joan and John were read an HSE medical negligence apology by Collette Cowan, the chief executive of the Midland Regional Hospital.

However, after the inquest had concluded, John told reporters that he and his wife rejected the HSE medical negligence apology as it had come “six years too late”. John explained to reporters that there had been no HSE medical negligence apology during the time that the couple had been battling the HSE for compensation, and said that it was a disgrace that the HSE had put “an ordinary decent family through the pain and torment we had to endure for over six years”.

A spokesperson for the HSE later said medical negligence claims were not handled by the HSE but by the State Claims Agency. However, the “passing of the buck” did not impress one Irish Times columnist, who described the treatment that Joan and John had received as a “shabby episode” and who wrote: “A common interest links the HSE and the claims agency and there has been a persistent pattern of denial, prevarication and years of unnecessary delay in dealing with medical claims. The public and aggrieved patients deserve better. So do the vast majority of medical professionals.”

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Compensation for Medical Negligence at Sligo General Hospital Approved at Court

A settlement of compensation for medical negligence at Sligo General Hospital has been approved at the High Court in favour of an eighteen year old man.

Thomas O´Connor was delivered at the Sligo General Hospital on September 6th 1996 by an emergency Caesarean Section after having been distressed in his mother´s womb. When he was born, Thomas showed no signs of life and was resuscitated with the assistance of a breathing tube.

According to his mother, both the delivery and resuscitation of her son was conducted negligently; and, due to the hospital´s alleged medical negligence, Thomas was twice deprived of oxygen. Due to the lack of oxygen, it was claimed, Thomas suffered terrible brain damage and he is now spastic quadriplegic, blind and fed through a tube.

On behalf of her son, Ann O´Connor of Collooney in County Sligo claimed compensation for medical negligence at Sligo General Hospital – alleging that Thomas´ delivery had been delayed unnecessarily for up to four hours, and that the breathing tube that had been used to resuscitate him had been inserted too deeply, contributing to a heart attack that Thomas had suffered on his way to the Intensive Care Unit.

The Health Service Executive denied liability for Thomas´ birth injuries, and contested the claim for compensation for medical negligence at Sligo General Hospital. However, at the High Court in Dublin, Mr Justice Kevin Cross heard expert witnesses testify that a CTG trace had been discontinued in the morning of Thomas´ birth despite there being clear evidence of foetal distress, and that the ventilation tube had been inserted at a depth of 14cms, whereas it should have been put in at between 9cms and 10cms.

Judge Cross was also told that a settlement of compensation for medical negligence at Sligo General Hospital had been agreed for €1.75 million without an admission of liability. The judge approved the settlement – saying that he was delighted that the ordeal was over for the O´Connor family and noting that much of the settlement will be used to pay for Thomas´ continued care at the residential home in Sligo.

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