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Should I take legal action against my local hospital?

(20 Posts)
ProtectingMyNormalNickname Tue 19-Feb-13 22:31:13

I've name changed as the details I need to give you here will immediately 'out' me.

I'm putting this bit at the top as it's the question I'm asking about:
I am wondering whether we should refer ds's case to the NHS ombudsman, having already made a formal complaint to the hospital and feeling fobbed off by their response. Alternatively, should we even sue the hospital? I'd never consider this option for me as I'm an adult who understands that human error happens and I don't really like the compensation culture. However, I feel that DS has been through so much (on top of his other ongoing medical difficulties) that I wonder if we should take it further and seek compensation for him. I'd appreciate any experience of suing for medical negligence, whether it was worth it (in terms of the stress versus the outcome). We are already under quite a lot of stress and I don't want to embark on something that will send us over the edge! Please don't berate me for even contemplating it. If you want to read about the case, the story is below.

Backstory to avoid drip feeding:
My 4 year old ds fell in November and suffered a nasty laceration to his forehead. I was away at the time on a course so didn't see the wound until it had been patched up, but met him and DH at the hospital as the treatment was being finished and could see it was really nasty. The doctor in A&E had put 10 steristrips on it and then glued all over the top, having offered him no pain relief. I queried at that point whether it should have been sutured, as it looked nasty, and was told that they do not stitch children's heads as it is too distressing for them. I argued it again but was told it was fine.

Five days later, I took him to the practice nurse at the GP (who worked in A&E for 20 years) and she asked me if I had applied the strips and glue. She was horrified when I said it was done in A&E and urged me to complain. I then sent the photos I had taken to a friend who works as a specialist children's nurse in our regional paediatric hospital. She was also very concerned. I saw the A&E matron the following day (as we were attending another appointment) and she reassured me that it was all fine and to take the dressing off in the bath that night. We tried, failed, it started bleeding and we returned to A&E for help. The junior doctor said it was okay, said they had used the 10 day glue, instead of the 7 day glue, and that we should leave it another few days and then have another go.

Twelve days after the initial injury (and the day before we were supposed to go back), I took ds to A&E to have the strips removed (as they had effectively been superglued to his forehead and eyebrow). They eventually got them off and the nurse stood and gaped at it. There was a 5mm deep hole in his forehead and it was yellow, smelly and oozing. She went to get the sister on duty who also expressed her concern. The doctor was called, pulled out a load of the gunk with a pair of tweezers (something no 4 year old should have to endure) and sent us to the regional paediatric hospital for plastic surgery. The plastic surgeon's opinion was that the local hospital should never have tried to treat the wound (from my photo of it with the original dressing on) and that it should have been operated on at the regional hospital on the day of the injury. By the time it was contaminated, they could not operate as it would seal in the contamination.

Since then, we have been backwards and forwards to the regional centre every fortnight for ongoing treatment which he will need for up to two years, when they will probably have to resect it anyway as it is sore, red, raised (and now a hypertrophic scar).

I wrote a formal complaint to the local hospital including the photos of the initial wound closure, the horrible contaminated hole and the resulting closure. I've finally heard back from them and they have said they are sorry that ds was not offered pain relief (his chart says it was scored 4-7/10 so moderate pain) as this was an oversight, and that there 'may have been excessive use of steristrips' in the dressing of it (but no acceptance that he should have been referred elsewhere - blaming the resultant problems on the general chances of contamination, not that they completely sealed it so that it couldn't heal or let the germs escape). The letter says that junior doctors have been reminded how to treat wounds appropriately.

DH and I feel that we have been fobbed off and that they have done the bare minimum to try and placate us, rather than take on board the fact that they have caused considerable unnecessary suffering (and time off school/work/costs etc..). The practice nurse (at the GP) wants us to request a copy of the hospital's updated wound closure policy as a result of our complaint so I could request that.

Any thougts gratefully received.

Baffledandbewildered Tue 19-Feb-13 23:09:50

I would defiantly take this further. It would defiantly seem to look like negligence. Your poor son has suffered and will continue to do so.

ProtectingMyNormalNickname Wed 20-Feb-13 07:57:23

Thanks. Now see just how long my post was and apologise for that. Hope more of you might have time to read and advise us today.

doublecakeplease Wed 20-Feb-13 08:01:24

Do you want to sue for financial gain? Surely it's better to push for staff who did it to be retrained / disciplined?

slhilly Wed 20-Feb-13 08:08:17

Try to work out what you really want: an apology; compensation; a meaningful change in the hospital's approach in A&E; etc. You can then decide what course of action will deliver what you want. If it's about a meaningful approach, I would be tempted to go back to the plastic surgeon and enlist their help in getting change to happen. If they were to write to the medical director of the local hospital saying "this is unacceptable and the Francis report means you need to bloody sort it out" that is likely to deliver some meaningful change.

dikkertjedap Wed 20-Feb-13 08:18:21

Where are you OP, ie. which country? Because in the UK there are no matrons in hospitals as far as I am aware. If you are in the UK, have you contacted PALS?

Whether to sue or not will depend on what your objectives are and what your chances are of meeting your objectives through suing.

ProtectingMyNormalNickname Wed 20-Feb-13 08:48:47

I think the honest answer is that I just don't know. I think we are erring away from seeking compensation, because anyone can make a mistake.

I am in the UK-it was a term used by the PALS lady, where I began with the complaint. The complaints process goes above her.

I do want the staff retrained but I think to do that, they will need to accept that his treatment path was wrong - not just the amount of steristrips used, but that they should have realised they shouldn't have treated it at all.

youfhearted Wed 20-Feb-13 09:00:07

they have insurance against complaints, it will be a drop in the ocean to them, so absolutely go for it.

dikkertjedap Wed 20-Feb-13 09:19:38

I would do as the practice nurse has advised you and in case of future accidents take him to another hospital.

No point further bankrupting the NHS imo and given how the NHS is being reformed there is a good chance your local hospital may no longer be there in a few years time or at least it is likely it will have lost its A&E.

BrittaPerry Wed 20-Feb-13 09:28:41

There are matrons in hospitals. Except they are called modern matrons and can be men (to me they need a new name)

It used to be that sisters were called charge nurses if they were male, but they changed it to ward manager for everyone.

Sorry, off topic...

bakingaddict Wed 20-Feb-13 09:50:13

I think you should contact a solicitor, your child may have life-long scarring due to inappropriate medical treatment but i'm not legally qualified to make this assumption. I work in the NHS in a professional capacity and it's amazing how things get swept under the carpet because of the sheer amount of bureaucracy and layers of middle management

Senior managers pay lip service to changing bad practices but really as long as the right box has been ticked nobody really wants to upset the status quo. You only have to look at the Staffordshire and Lincoln hospital scandals to realise how incompetence at all levels can be systematic of this culture. IMO nothing shines the spotlight on bad practices quite like a lawsuit

ProtectingMyNormalNickname Wed 20-Feb-13 10:53:48

It's a tricky call isn't it? I had to contact Birmingham Children's Hospital last year when they'd sent out incorrect info about my son's procedure under GA. He had to go without solids for 48hrs beforehand and was the first patient to be operated in in the afternoon. Unfortunately, he went without food for 8 hours longer than necessary (even though I'd rung and queried it and was still given the wrong info) and his blood sugar had dropped dangerously low by the time we got there. They were brilliant-took it seriously, apologised, showed me the updated info once it was rewritten etc.. I felt that they had really listened and responded appropriately, so never even considered taking it further, even though the situation was potentially much more serious. (I realise you might think from that that I spend my life complaining-I really don't! We were just really unlucky twice in 10 months. Poor ds1!) Mostly, I do just want to make sure one way or another that it doesn't happen again to someone else, and so far I'm not convinced by their reply.

ProtectingMyNormalNickname Wed 20-Feb-13 19:40:47

Just wondering if anyone else had taken the legal route and how stressful it was. I don't want compensating for the expenses we've incurred, but I feel that I need to decide carefully for ds1 as it would obviously be his money for the future if we were to proceed down that route and he won.

barleysugar Wed 20-Feb-13 19:44:02

Yes, I honestly think you should pursue this. My daughter sustained a laceration to her forehead when she was three, and they stitched it up, no bother. Saying that they don't stitch four year olds sounds ridiculous to me.

I feel really upset for you.

ProtectingMyNormalNickname Wed 20-Feb-13 20:23:02

Thank you Barleysugar. Ds1 has totally amazed us with his ability to cope with the pain and stress he has endured. Unfortunately, he suffered a hand injury at school only 2 weeks later and it required further treatment at A&E, so he really has been through the mill. They also found he has a heart murmur, which will now require investigating, and he had sugar in his urine too. I was quite glad to see the end of 2012!

silverboy Thu 21-Feb-13 23:14:41

I am sorry to hear that your DC has gone through the mill a bit. I think you should pursue the route of getting staff retrained in carrying out certain procedures at least that way future incidents and therefore other children will benefit.
Youfhearted- the NHS is not backed by insurance, this is not america. Awards are made out of operating costs. Which means that there will be less money to employ further front line staff.
I have in the past encouraged a friend to go for an award, we were both doing the LSF at the time so were probably drunk on the law. In hindsight this was the wrong approach. If you go the route of wanting to sue,you will need to get all plp you mentioned refuting the treatment your child received, too write witness statements. Experience tells me this may prove quite hard, even the professional witnesses tend to baulk at giving evidence against fellow professionals. - obviously the decision is yours, but the NHS is not a cash cow that can hand over cash without knock-on effects to other services. Hope your little guys' recovery goes well.

Notquiteinsane Fri 22-Feb-13 13:24:13

I totally think that the people involved in treating your son need to be made WELL aware of the consequence of their actions!!! I am feeling so cross as I write this. I work within the NHS and it is people like them that give everyone a bad name. I agree, people make mistakes, BUT when you are dealing with people's health, I think something as standardised as treating a wound is not something that should be cocked up!! Don't get me wrong, I know it happens a lot and for a whole variety of often unavoidable reasons, but I think in this case it is just cringeworthy. The fact that you actually queried it at the time and went back means there were so many opportunities to have at least tried to fix the situation before it got to this point.
My sympathy goes out to your poor DS.
As far as compensation, I don't know that I would be seeking it (if it was a bank, or other affluent establishment then yes) but that aside, I would push and push for a change to be made as a result. The damage can't be undone, but don't let it be in vein!
Sorry for the rant smile

ProtectingMyNormalNickname Fri 22-Feb-13 20:24:23

Thanks folks. We have decided not to proceed down the legal route, although re-reading their response yesterday made DH and I extremely angry. Their letter was contradictory and inaccurate and they are very clearly trying to fob me off (and have tried it with the wrong woman!) They have made no mention of the fact that the method of applying glue all over steri-strips (the use of which they admit was excessive!) was wrong and caused the infection and resultant problems. Instead they say that it was just unfortunate that it got infected, as wounds can do, and of course they believe it must have happened after the A&E matron saw it!! They have also said that the A&E wound closure outcomes are as good as those at ' the specialities'.

I have written a very strongly worded response and popped in to see the Patient Experience Team Co-ordinator whilst at the hospital for a different appointment yesterday. I was friendly and polite, but I made it very clear to her that I was extremely unhappy with their letter and would be writing to her. We agreed that a meeting with the staff involved would then be the best way forward. I have said that I will contact the Health Ombudsman if I do not feel the complaint has been dealt with appropriately after the meeting (and I really will do so! I am absolutely determined that no-one else should have to go through all this).

Meanwhile, some good news: I took DS1 back to the regional centre for further treatment today and they feel that the wound is finally responding to the daily treatment. smile

prettybird Fri 22-Feb-13 20:35:11

I think your initial thought of taking it to ombudsman is a good one if your objective is to ensure that the hospital truly addresses its processes and training.

You need to be clear why you feel your complaint has not been addressed. The ombudsman is usually pretty helpful in providing guidance. You could ring them up for initial advice. My dad had to go to the ombudsman about my mum's treatment - it certainly got the hospital's attention sad

SurvivalOfTheUnfittest Fri 22-Feb-13 21:09:56

Thanks. I am very keen for the hospital to address it. I don't feel they will do this if they don't believe they have got it so wrong. I obviously don't know whether they realise what a cock up it was but don't want to admit it in case I sue them, or whether they just don't get it. Preventing other people from going through this will help me to feel that all this has not been for nothing, although I am very tired of fighting and attending so many hospital appointments.

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