Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team has recently settled a claim against Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust after a woman received negligent care from consultant gynaecologist Jayne Cockburn at Frimley Park Hospital.
In late 2008, the patient had been referred to Miss Cockburn after she had described to her GP symptoms of a prolapse. She was seen by Miss Cockburn on 12 November 2008 and, following this appointment, it was recommended that she have a vaginal hysterectomy, prolapse repair and transvaginal tape operation.
Within a month of this consultation, Miss Cockburn performed the surgery.
The patient was not offered any conservative treatment nor was she advised of the risks associated with the numerous surgical procedures Miss Cockburn intended to perform at the same time. A transvaginal tape procedure for stress incontinence was carried out, and yet the patient did not recall suffering any significant problems with incontinence prior to her operation. She was unaware that a transvaginal tape had been fitted, and although it was subsequently removed, she only became aware of what this procedure was during the investigation into her clinical negligence claim.
Following surgery, the patient suffered from a number of complications including pain during sexual intercourse. Treatment by way of silver nitrate was required to remove granulations and perineal scarring and she is now on prophylactic antibiotics due to the fact that she suffers from recurrent urinary tract infections and is likely to require further treatment for her bladder symptoms. As well as the physical effects of the unnecessary surgery, she has had to deal with the psychological implications of undergoing a surgical procedure which she never needed.
The patient, along with a number of other women, was invited back to Frimley Park Hospital in July 2014 by the chief executive of Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust to review the care she had received from Miss Cockburn. Unfortunately, she was not given any indication during the review that this care was in any way negligent. However, she had already sought the advice of Penningtons Manches in relation to another injury she had suffered at the hospital and, during this investigation, concerns were raised about the care she had received from Miss Cockburn.
The firm’s clinical negligence team carried out further investigations and expert evidence indicated that the patient was negligently treated, given that she had not consented to the operation she underwent on 12 January 2009. She was not offered any conservative treatment options prior to the surgery, and the surgery itself was inappropriate as she did not require it.
The defendant trust accepted liability and acknowledged the failings in the patient’s care. It admitted that Miss Cockburn failed to assess her condition properly and consider conservative treatment options, that she was negligent in offering surgical intervention, and that she failed to consider and appropriately act upon the results of the patient’s urodynamic studies, which did not show any evidence of stress incontinence. It was also admitted that the risks associated with the surgery were not fully described to the patient and as such, she could not give her full informed consent.
The trust acknowledged that, but for the negligent treatment received from Miss Cockburn, the patient would have avoided the surgery itself and the numerous and extensive procedures that then followed. It admitted that her voiding dysfunction was exacerbated by the unnecessary surgery and any symptoms presented to Miss Cockburn were likely to have been improved with simple conservative treatment.
Emma Beeson, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, who has represented a number of women in claims concerning care provided by Miss Cockburn, said: “I am really pleased that we have been able to achieve a good settlement for our client and that the defendant trust made a swift admission of liability, acknowledging the failures in her care.
“Unfortunately, our client is not the only patient to have been affected by care provided by Miss Cockburn. I have represented a number of other women who underwent surgery with her which was not necessary, and none of them were advised of the risks or alternatives. I hope that anyone else who has been affected by her care will seek advice soon, given that there are time limits for pursuing clinical negligence claims.
“The use of synthetic meshes and tapes for managing incontinence has come under close scrutiny recently because of the number of cases in which women have suffered significant problems as a result of having them fitted. There is a clear need for doctors to have a full discussion with patients regarding the options available to them, and whether or not surgical intervention is appropriate at that stage without first having explored alternative conservative treatment.
“This patient’s life has been severely impacted by Miss Cockburn’s decision to perform numerous unnecessary operations. While her compensation will go towards funding the treatment she now requires, no sum of money can make up for the way in which her life has changed and how her relationships have been affected because of it. I know that my client, like a number of other women I am representing, hopes that lessons will be learnt and steps taken as a result of her claim to ensure that this never happens again.”