Revolutionary Medical Treatment Leads To Skin Cancer


The Law Of… Minimising Patient Risk

A once revolutionary treatment for psoriasis left one Simpson Millar client with a life-threatening illness. Victoria Clark, a Medical Negligence Solicitor, reveals the details of the resulting claim for this terrible disease.

Dangerous Levels Of PUVA Treatment

The events leading up to this medical negligence case have their genesis in 1963. At the age of 10, the client developed chronic plaque psoriasis, a skin condition that causes itchy, sore and scaly lesions.

In 1974 she was referred to the hospital trust that became the defendant in the subsequent legal action and underwent treatment to manage the effects of her condition. Eight years later she began a course of PUVA phototherapy, a relatively new treatment in 1982 that had proved popular with similarly afflicted patients.  

The PUVA (psorelan and ultraviolet A) treatment continued at regular intervals up until 2000, by which time the client had undergone approximately 500 to 600 separate sessions, receiving more than double what was considered a safe level for PUVA. It was around this time that the damage wreaked by her exposure to this amount of radiation first became apparent.

Skin Cancer Develops

A squamous cell carcinoma – a skin cancer directly linked to ultraviolet light – was diagnosed and removed from the client's leg. Unfortunately, it proved to be only the beginning of such health scares, as she went on to develop and suffer from numerous skin cancers across various sites upon her body.

The prognosis suggested that these would continue to develop at a rate of at least 2 annually – doubling within 10 years – for the remainder of her life.

Alleged Medical Negligence

When the client began her PUVA treatment, the links between overexposure to the ultraviolet radiation and skin cancer had yet to be established. As time progressed, knowledge of the risks became clearer until guidelines were introduced on what was a safe limit for the treatment. During this time, the client's PUVA sessions continued, regardless of both the concerns and the eventual recommendations.

Seeking justice for the situation she found herself in, the client approached Simpson Millar. Victoria Clark handled the case on her behalf.

The following allegations were made against the hospital trust responsible:

  • It had failed to advise the client of the increased risk of skin cancers, allowing her to give proper informed consent to continue the treatment
  • It was unreasonable to continue the treatment, even if the risks had been explained to the client, once it was established that she had exceeded the accepted safe levels.

The hospital trust admitted a breach of its duty of care to the client, but put forward the argument that this was not causative of the skin cancer. This, it claimed, was because once the risks associated with the PUVA treatment became apparent the damage had already been done.

What Is A Breach Of Duty Of Care?

Upon admittance to hospital, a duty of care is established between a patient and any healthcare professional they come into contact with. Duty of care itself refers to the medical practitioner's general duty to take reasonable care to avoid any act or decision that could reasonably be foreseen to result in a patient's injury.

Duty of care is breached when the healthcare professional fails to perform to a standard expected of their profession. This is defined as what a reasonably skilled and competent medical professional of a similar level and background would do to reduce the risk of harming a patient.

If it can be proved that there was a duty of care to a patient and failing to carry it out to a reasonable standard resulted in injury, there are grounds for a medical negligence claim.

Full And Final Settlement

With the hospital trust refusing to admit that the client's skin cancer was directly attributable to her PUVA treatment, a court trial was looking likely.

Victoria Clark advanced the argument that, on the balance of probabilities, the negligent treatment her client received was more than negligible in its material contribution to her risk of injury.

Both sides seemed to have reached an impasse, with a court date looming heavily upon the horizon, but the deadlock was broken when the hospital trust made an offer to settle for £70,000.

This figure was at the lower end of what was expected of a reasonable offer and Victoria Clark advised her client not to accept it. A counter offer was made and following further negotiation, the hospital trust returned with a new offer of £80,000 in full and final settlement, which she accepted.

Speaking of the service she had received from Simpson Millar, the client said:

"With thorough professionalism, Simpson Millar swiftly brought my claim to a satisfactory conclusion. I could not be more pleased with how everything was dealt with, especially by Victoria Clark who was most helpful with all of my enquiries and very pleasant to talk to."

If you have suffered an injury due to medical negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. To discuss your case, contact our Medical Negligence Department today.

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