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Colchester: Hospital Trust 'could face compensation claims amounting to millions of pounds'

PUBLISHED: 08:04 08 November 2013 | UPDATED: 08:04 08 November 2013

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Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust could potentially face compensation claims amounting to millions of pounds in the wake of the cancer patient data scandal, legal experts have warned.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) issued a report earlier this week stating that staff at Colchester General Hospital had tampered with patient records to improve the hospital’s statistics for cancer treatment waiting times.

In response, the Trust said it had notified the NHS Litigation Authority, the body that deals with claims on behalf of NHS Trusts, to manage any potential claims.

While stressing they can only speculate on the level of any claims for medical negligence at this stage, solicitors say there is the potential for them to total into the millions of pounds.

Naomi Eady, who is a clinical negligence solicitor at Colchester-based law firm Thompson, Smith and Puxon, said falsifying patient records is not in itself negligent medical care, but given that the CQC reported that figures were being altered to cover up poor performance, there is a suggestion that treatment within the cancer department was not being given to an appropriate standard.

She said: “If it can be established that a patient’s cancer treatment was unreasonably delayed and this delay caused extra pain and suffering then the Trust may be liable to compensate the patient.

“Similarly, if the unreasonably delayed treatment has caused death then the deceased’s family can make a claim based on the dependency on their lost loved one for financial support as well as care and services.

“Given that the amount of compensation is based on the level and extent of the pain, suffering and loss sustained, then the amount of damages that can be awarded will vary hugely from case to case. Compensation for the preventable death of a high-earner with dependents, such as a spouse or young children, can be very substantial. We have had a case of this nature that achieved a million pounds in compensation. Similarly, there are cases where the damages that can be claimed have little or no value whatsoever. Compensation in delayed cancer diagnosis and treatment cases can range from zero to millions of pounds, it depends entirely upon the circumstances of each individual’s case.”

Peter Savage, a partner at the specialist clinical negligence law firm the Medical Accident Group, said: “The CQC report showed that out of the 61 cases looked at, 22 patients – more than a third - had not been treated within agreed time guidelines.

“If you consider that the hospital deals with 6,000 cancer patients each year there’s a huge potential for more cases of delayed treatment to come to light. And the potential for a huge number of negligence claims to follow.”

Iona Meeres Young is a senior associate specialising in clinical negligence at law firm Slater and Gordon, which is currently representing the family of four-year old Mackenzie Cackett who died at Colchester General Hospital in May last year.

Ms Meeres-Young added: “There could be thousands of potential victims as we do not know how far back this poor standard of care dates. These patients have a right to know whether they were treated appropriately and whether their prognosis has been compromised by any failings in their care.

“Trying to estimate the value of potential negligence claims at this point is very speculative but if the victim is a main breadwinner in his mid-30s or 40s with a young family for example, and it can be shown that a delay in treatment led to a death rather than a cure, then such a claim could be worth in excess of half a million pounds.”

A spokesman for Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust said: “If any patient has suffered harm as a result of delays, our primary concern will be to make sure that individual is given the right care immediately.

“We have notified our insurers, the NHS Litigation Authority, who would assist with the management of any potential claims.”

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