On 26 March 2020, the independent panel appointed by NHS Improvement to investigate deaths following cardiac surgery of patients at St George’s Hospital, London, between April 2013 and December 2018, published its findings.
The Independent Mortality Review concluded that, out of the 202 cardiac patient deaths that it investigated, ‘significant shortcomings’ were found in 102 of those deaths and, in 67 of those 102, the ‘significant shortcomings’ either probably, most likely, or definitely contributed to the deaths of the patients concerned. A previous article providing analysis of the review can be read here.
The first that families who had lost loved ones following cardiac surgery at St George’s knew of the investigation was when they received a letter in April 2019 from the chief medical officer at St George’s University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (St George’s Trust), informing them that their relative’s death was being reviewed. The families then had to wait nearly another year before the findings were published.
Letters were sent out to the affected families just prior to the publication of the independent panel’s findings. The letters we have seen all contain similar wording. There is an apology that St George’s Trust “fell so far short of the high standards we should have provided” and for “the distress this news is likely to cause you”. There is a note of the level of shortcomings involved and a short explanation of the reason for the independent panel’s decision. Families were also informed that the HM coroner “may get in touch” if it was felt that there was a need “to take any further action”.
More worryingly, a recent article in the Times has raised concerns that resolution of these claims may be delayed due to a change in the advice being given to St George’s Trust by NHS Resolution, the body that supports NHS trusts in clinical negligence claims. The Times reported that leaked minutes from a meeting of the quality and safety committee of St George’s Trust in January 2022 said: ‘Liability for the latest six claims notified to the trust has not been admitted in line with NHS Resolution’s revised position of holding off admitting liability until the outcome of the related inquests is known, where possible.’
Camilla Wonnacott, associate at Penningtons Manches Cooper, comments: “We act for families bereaved as a result of the failings in cardiac care at St George’s Hospital. Compensation is being offered in settlement of the associated clinical negligence claims. Nevertheless, the news that admissions of liability may be delayed until after inquests have taken place is very difficult news to hear. Anything that further delays the resolution of these claims only serves to prolong the misery for the families involved in this tragedy.”