Ashtons Legal clinical negligence claim becoming test case

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Posted 20/12/2012

Ashtons Legal is leading the way in taking out-of-hours medical providers to task and ensuring that in future when things go wrong it is easier to work out who needs to take responsibility. 

Sandra Patton, who heads the medical injury team at Ashtons Legal, is representing the family of Clare Secker from Gorleston, who sadly died in 2008 after being failed by her GP’s out-of-hours service. 

Clare fell ill over Christmas with flu-like symptoms. Her worried family called out-of-hours GP company Take Care Now (which has since been taken over by Harmoni), but a nurse told Clare’s mother to give her paracetamol and did not refer her to a GP. 

Tragically Clare, who was 19, died on 29 December 2008, leaving an 11 month-old son, Tyler. It was subsequently found that her death was caused by broncho-pneumonia, which could have been cured with a simple course of antibiotics.

Tyler Secker is bringing a legal case on behalf of his dead mother through his family, claiming her death was caused by negligence. However, because the three parties potentially responsible for the death are squabbling among themselves, the case has reached an impasse.

The nurse who gave the original advice has admitted breaching her duty by failing to arrange an appointment with a GP. But the nurse’s lawyers will only accept responsibility to compensate the family if Harmoni will reimburse her for any damages. Harmoni refuse to do so and claim that their insurance specifically excludes responsibility for negligence by nurses. As the service was provided by a private contractor, the state-backed NHS insurer (the NHS Litigation Authority) will not offer a compensation payment either.

The Secker’s case has now become a test case and as such is being closely watched by both the legal and medical profession as its outcome will be highly significant in the newly shaped NHS.

Sandra Patton comments: “Sadly, the tragedy experienced by the Seckers is unlikely to be the only such claim to be brought within the newly shaped NHS. There is a danger that this scenario will be repeated time and time again in the months and years ahead as more NHS services are contracted out to private providers, with none of the parties being willing to accept responsibility for their negligence.

The outcome of this case will be watched with much interest and we hope that it will set a precedent which speeds up the legal process for other families who find themselves in the same unfortunate situation.

In this case, the bickering between the three parties involved meant that the ashes of this poor young woman remained in the family’s living room for nearly four years. It was only after a local funeral directors saw the case in the media last year and offered to cover the cost, that the family were able to have a cremation and finally lay Clare to rest.”

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