Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Tragic circumstances, bad law

I heard on the news a couple of days ago that a family of a woman from Stockport are taking legal action after she died just weeks after breaking her toe. Her death was caused by a blood clot. It was certainly a tragic death as she died at a very young age and in front of her husband and children.

My motivation for writing today’s blog is because of the legal action. Lawyers have obviously advised the husband that he can sue and the legal basis for the action must be that the signs and symptoms of a blood clot could be found at a follow-up appointment. However these appointments are not a means of screening for blood clots. They are to check on the healing of the fracture and signs of a clot may be found on examination but primarily if signs and symptoms of a blood clot develop then you go to casualty or you see a doctor or a nurse. You don’t rely on outpatient appointments.

There is always a slight possibility that symptoms may be found at appointments. This is called coincidence but the reports in this case she died a couple of days after the surgery. Follow-up appointments would not have helped unless they were every couple of days.

I do not blame the husband for taking the advice of lawyers, but I do think that the lawyers might be at fault. Not every tragic death shoul be the occasion for legal action.

What is certain is that if this becomes the norm then medical decisions will not be made on the basis of medical need but on what lawyers may say. Our country is stagnating under the weight of legislation. Packets of nuts tell us they may contain nuts. Printed instructions tell us not to eat silica gel.

It will be unfortunate if NHS appointments are given out on the basis of protecting our medics from litigation. We need to retake the initiative from the lawyers, and make sure appointments are given out based on medical need.

Change the world.

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