Alison Johnson, senior associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, has obtained an admission of liability relating to the avoidable and premature death of a 49 year old man while a hospital inpatient. Penningtons Manches is representing his wife.
The patient had a medical history of type II diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and alcoholism. He was admitted to hospital having fallen down stairs injuring his back and was treated on an orthopaedic ward. However, his condition deteriorated and he suffered renal failure. He died from a cardiac arrhythmia due to hyperkalaemia and/or metabolic acidosis, which are both secondary to acute renal failure.
Penningtons Manches investigated the case and obtained expert evidence on the management of his care. The firm subsequently submitted a claim to the hospital trust alleging that the standard of nursing care was inadequate, allowing the patient’s condition to develop and deteriorate. In particular the allegations of breach of duty related to failures to perform regular observations, to manage fluid and food intake, to measure urine output, to respond to low blood pressure readings, to manage symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, to commence IV fluids and to seek clinical input from a physician as required.
Based on expert evidence, it was also alleged that with appropriate care, renal failure would have been avoided and the patient would have survived. Prompt treatment for renal failure at any time prior to the evening of his death would have saved his life.
After submission of the claim to the trust and further discussions, liability for failure to manage the patient’s treatment appropriately, causing his collapse and avoidable death, was admitted. Damages are to be assessed and Penningtons Manches is now in the process of quantifying the claim and negotiating a settlement.
Philippa Luscombe, partner in the clinical negligence team, comments: “This is a case in which the trust has taken a sensible approach and admitted liability. We hope that lessons will also be learnt from what happened. It is one of a worrying number of clinical negligence cases where nursing care has been woefully inadequate and ultimately an individual who should have survived has deteriorated and died. While resourcing is an issue in some instances, we are also seeing a failure to comply with basic procedures and to engage in constructive communication with families. Work and investment are needed to ensure that there are sufficient nursing resources and that both training and monitoring operate effectively so that deaths due to failures in basic nursing care are avoided.”