Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations that there be a limit to legal fees where claims for damages are worth less than £25,000 will put elderly medical negligence cases in jeopardy.
The warning has come from law firm Attwaters Jameson Hill. The firm has said that if the Government acts on LJ Jackson’s proposals, then many future incidents of negligence of the elderly will slip through the net as the costs involved in investigating the claims will be too high.
Attwaters Jameson Hill has cited its recent experience of elderly negligence which resulted in the untimely death of Mrs. Rosa Smith who lived in Waltham Abbey.
Mrs. Smith was in her eighties when she 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. Mrs. Smith died whilst being reviewed by the critical care outreach team.
Following her death, the hospital carried out a review 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, a 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.”