A victim of alleged clinical negligence has accused a national firm of colluding in a cover-up to hide the cause and effects of a hospital’s error. Labour MP Andrew Gwynne claimed in a parliamentary debate this week that health and social care firm Hempsons Solicitors had assisted Tameside Hospital to conceal an error made back in the summer of 2006.
Gwynne said his constituent, referred to as Mr Hawkins, had alleged he received negligent treatment at the hands of the hospital during and after an operation on a ruptured achilles tendon. The operation was carried out by a junior doctor as a replacement for a consultant surgeon and Hawkins alleges he has suffered lasting damage as a result of clinical mistakes.
Addressing a debate on clinical negligence, the Denton and Reddish MP said that Hawkins would have been satisfied with a further operation to correct any error, but instead the hospital trust instructed Hempsons as soon as he raised a complaint. What followed, Hawkins alleges, was a series of actions ‘deliberately designed to cover up’ the original mistake.
The debate heard that the trust and Hempsons initially failed to disclose medical records relevant to Hawkins’ case and did so only after ‘continued and considerable’ pressure. The problem was exacerbated by Hawkins’ own solicitors, who were not named by Gwynne, failing to ensure all medical evidence was disclosed within statutory time limits and failing to apply for a court-controlled disclosure. An expert instructed by Hawkins’ solicitor produced a report which failed an objectivity test and was deemed invalid.
Gwynne alleged that Hempsons gave Hawkins ‘only a very selective number’ of his own medical files before 2009, when the limitation period expired.
The MP said: ‘Hempsons Solicitors were aware of a breach of the Limitation Act and the Data Protection Act when they disclosed to Mr H his missing medical records in October 2009. This means that the trust, and Hempsons Solicitors, had illegally avoided disclosing all full medical records within statute time limits and successfully passed the three-year limit for litigation.’
The debate heard that in 2013, Hawkins wrote to the NHS Litigation Authority, as the trust was not reporting clinical mistakes. Initially, the authority would not get involved. However Hawkins was later notified in writing that the trust, on receipt of his letter of complaint, had instructed Hempsons in January 2007, with the NHS Litigation Authority directly instructing Hempsons and the trust from November 2007 to February 2009.
Gwynne added: ‘The actions taken by the trust, assisted by Hempsons and the NHS Litigation Authority from January 2007 to December 2013, clearly indicate that the trust was covering up a clinical incident and its cause.’
Responding to Gwynne’s speech, health minister Stephen Barclay said the government is committed to avoiding cases such as Hawkins’ and wants to improve the complaints process. ‘It is important that patients receive the safest care possible from the NHS and that when things go wrong clinicians are open and honest, and able to learn from their mistakes,’ he said.
The Gazette has contacted Hempsons, NHS Resolution (formerly the NHSLA) and Tameside Hospital Trust for comment.