What If Your Past Medical History Gets Ignored?


The Law Of… compromising patient safety

Your medical history plays an important role in keeping you safe with regards to future care. It provides healthcare professionals with an overview of any previous ailments, injuries, surgical procedures, or ongoing conditions you have had or have.

Had one client's past medical history been properly checked prior to treatment, it could have spared them weeks of severe ill health from a potentially fatal infection.

Sarah Chambers, the Medical Negligence Solicitor at Simpson Millar who took on the case, explains how justice for her client was achieved.

Avoidable Complications

A course of chemotherapy is a punishing enough experience without avoidable complications making it worse. The client, who approached Simpson Millar for legal advice had commenced the cancer treatment, only to find herself falling extremely ill.

Had the client's past medical history undergone a routine check beforehand, it would have emerged that she was in fact a carrier of the Hepatitis B virus (HBV), a viral infection transmitted in the blood.

Hepatitis B And Chemotherapy

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver, which, if left untreated, can be fatal.

It is passed on via contact with another carrier's blood or bodily fluid and presents symptoms ranging from flu-like aches and pains, through to stomach disorders and jaundice. Although severe, acute cases usually pass within 3 months, chronic hepatitis B, which lasts in excess of 6 months, is often milder, sometimes without symptom, and can result in irreversible scarring (Cirrhosis) and even cancer of the liver. It is a 'notifiable disease', meaning that in acute infectious cases found in England and Wales, medical professionals have to notify either the local authority or the local Health Protection Team of its appearance.

Chemotherapy is one of the key treatments used in the battle against cancer. Delivered either orally, via an intravenous drip, or a combination of both, it affects not only the cancer cells it sets out to destroy, but also the body's healthy cells, often resulting in debilitating effects for the patient.

Hepatitis B can, in some cases, remain undetected in the liver for years and reactivate when the immune system is compromised. As chemotherapy can actively suppress the immune system it can cause HBV reactivation in carriers of the virus.

A Severe State of Ill Health

In a clear case of medical negligence, the treating clinicians responsible for prescribing the client's chemotherapy did so without noting she was a carrier of Hepatitis B, resulting in the virus reactivating.

This neglect of duty on the part of the hospital treating her led to the client suffering reduced liver function, sickness and fatigue for a number of weeks, leaving her in a severe state of ill health. Once recovered, she approached Simpson Millar for legal advice and it was determined there were very strong grounds for compensation.

Sarah Chambers, handling the medical negligence claim, obtained a medical report from an independent specialist, which thankfully confirmed the client's liver function had returned to normal and there was no long-term damage.

Following this, she set out the claim that her client's previous medical history should have been noted and antiviral medication administered concurrently with the chemotherapy. She included expert evidence stating that had this occurred the virus would not have reactivated.

A Satisfactory Settlement

In what is something of a rarity in cases of this nature, the hospital accepted its responsibility in the matter without quarrel, and the case was settled for £8,500.

Sarah comments:

"Everybody has a medical history, varying in degrees of complication, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are vitally important when determining whether a type of medication or treatment is suitable for you to commence."

"Your past medical history should be well documented within your medical records and known to whoever is treating you. Failure to consider it prior to treatment can, as in this case, lead to serious consequences and even mean the difference between life and death."

What Can I Do If I Am A Victim Of Medical Negligence?

If you have suffered medical error at the hands of a medical practitioner, hospital or surgery, you should seek independent legal advice from a law firm, like Simpson Millar, with a dedicated clinical negligence department.

Simpson Millar has both the experience and the expertise to handle claims such as yours, regardless of their complexity. To speak with one of our specialist team about the medical negligence you have been a victim to, contact Simpson Millar today.

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