The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP is currently acting for over 20 clients in an informal group action against Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust for claims relating to negligent treatment provided by Jayne Cockburn. Miss Cockburn practised as a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey until 2011, before officially resigning from the trust in December 2014 after it emerged that a number of her former patients had been recalled for review in July 2014 following a look-back exercise carried out by the trust. It is understood that she is still working in the South East but with Undertakings on her registration imposed by the General Medical Council.
In 2014 the trust announced that it had undertaken an internal review of Miss Cockburn’s urogynaecological practices and that it had written to 101 of the patients who had been treated by Miss Cockburn offering them the opportunity to see another gynaecologist and have their care reviewed. It is reported that nearly half of the patients who were contacted were advised by the doctors carrying out the review that the treatment provided by Miss Cockburn was “unnecessary” and “significant harm” had been caused as a result.
Since 2014, the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches has been approached by a large number of Miss Cockburn’s former patients for advice. Commenting on these cases, senior associate Elise Bevan, who together with associate Emma Beeson is currently advising the group of over 20 clients, said: “Since the trust’s review in 2014, a number of women have come forward seeking advice from us as to whether they might have a claim. The majority had received a call back for review and had been encouraged by doctors at the trust to take legal action. Their claims relate to Miss Cockburn’s urogynaecological practices and therefore involve hugely sensitive issues. Most have sustained permanent, life-changing injuries as a result of inappropriate advice and treatment from Miss Cockburn.
“During the course of our investigations, it has transpired that there had been concerns among the other doctors at the trust about Miss Cockburn for some time, particularly in relation to her decision-making process when it came to treatment. The over-arching theme in all the cases that we have investigated is Miss Cockburn’s inappropriate willingness to proceed to extensive, major surgery. In almost all the cases, Miss Cockburn carried out surgery (multiple times on some patients) that was not indicated and was completely unnecessary.
“The claims generally concern patients who were referred to Miss Cockburn for advice on prolapse symptoms and sometimes bladder problems. Miss Cockburn failed to appreciate and address properly the extent of the patients’ problems when advising on treatment, appearing instead to exaggerate the symptoms as a justification for surgery. She also failed to give any consideration to conservative management options, which for most patients would have had approximately a 70% success rate. Instead, she was willing to proceed directly to surgery.
“One of the most shocking issues to have come out of our investigations is the lack of information that Miss Cockburn gave to patients before the surgery. There were no discussions regarding alternatives to surgery and / or the risks of the surgery. Most horrifying of all, however, is that Miss Cockburn often did not tell patients what surgery she was planning to do and what she had done. Some patients were not aware that a biological mesh and / or a transvaginal tape had been inserted, until they developed complications arising from these including erosion many years later. Miss Cockburn performed extensive surgery on patients, which they did not require and indeed may never have required. She also incorrectly bundled together the procedures, which increases the chance of complications.
“It is not clear why Miss Cockburn made the decisions that she did but a number of women have suffered very serious injuries as a result. They have experienced the pain and stress of major surgery, which could have been avoided. Most have required numerous revision procedures to deal with problems arising following the surgery. Many have reported bladder problems including urge incontinence and urgency, as well as narrowing of the vagina affecting sexual function and difficulties emptying their bowels. These are just a few examples of the injuries our clients have sustained. Many require ongoing treatment.
“We have been liaising with the trust and their solicitor, Hill Dickinson, about these cases. We should say that the trust and their legal team have been open, cooperative and efficient throughout. They recognise that patients have suffered unnecessary harm and that compensation is due to them. We are receiving early admissions of negligence and, in most cases, reasonable offers of settlement. Many of our clients were not keen to bring a claim against the trust, but had no option given the ongoing problems they had suffered and the impact on their life. Both legal teams appreciate that for those affected the issues are very private and the claims are being dealt with sympathetically and sensibly. We would urge anyone contemplating a claim to seek legal advice as soon as possible as there are time limits for pursuing claims for compensation.”