Reviewed by: Paul Rogerson
Author: Arnold Simanowitz OBE
Publisher: Pen Press
As a champion of the vulnerable, Arnold Simanowitz has impeccable credentials. Born in South Africa just before the second world war, he is descended from Polish émigrés who fled to that country from the pogroms. His paternal grandparents made unlikely ostrich farmers; but the family’s emigration provided limited deliverance.
In 1943, a shop owned by Simanowitz’s father was burned down by anti-semitic Afrikaaners who wanted the Nazis to win the war to ‘get rid of the English’. A revulsion for apartheid and South Africa’s provincialism lay behind Arnold’s decision to leave for London in the early 1960s. South Africa’s loss has proved to be the UK’s gain.
This book is not a personal memoir, but Simanowitz’s engrossing life story – which might have made a novel in itself – greatly enhances this history of the pioneering charity Action Against Medical Accidents. Requalifying as a solicitor in the English jurisdiction, Simanowitz became a pioneer in the clinical negligence sector through an alliance with an up-and-coming playwright, Peter Ransley, which led to the AvMA’s foundation. He wrote to the latter after the BBC’s late, lamented Play for Today screened Ransley’s Minor Complications. The play told of how a woman seeking compensation for a botched operation was thwarted at every turn by a deeply cynical and complacent medical establishment.
‘Peter realised he had stumbled on a social problem of potentially enormous proportions,’ Simanowitz recalls. Indeed. In a foreword to the book, renowned paediatrician Harvey Marcovitch writes: ‘When I first encountered AvMA, solicitors were often groping in the dark, case notes were often not fully disclosed, allegations were imprecise, schedules non-existent, and many experts were part of a regiment of hired guns who appeared to care more for their fees than the accuracy of their advice.’
Marcovitch adds: ‘It is an enormous tribute to the progenitors of AvMA that so much has changed.’ An inspiring history.
Paul Rogerson is editor-in-chief of the Law Society Gazette