Doctor who narrowly escaped death hits out at NHS targets

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Former consultant radiologist, Dr Caroline Clark nearly lost her life because she was discharged too early following major surgery. Now, she urges politicians to curb performance targets and focus on outcome-based patient care.



Less than 24 hours after an operation at Peterborough City Hospital to remove a cancerous tumour on her neck, 54-year old Dr Clark who lives in Brigstock, Northamptonshire, was sent home despite blood tests showing that her calcium levels were low, and against both her own and a junior doctor's advice. Already, she had experienced a shocking lack of post-operative care as staff focused on looking after elderly patients on the ward.

During the early morning that followed, she awoke with potentially life-threatening seizures and knew immediately that she was suffering from hypocalcaemia - dangerously low calcium levels in the blood.

From her home in she called an ambulance but what followed can only be described as a plethora of indifference, negligence and medical failings.

The ambulance took more than 20 minutes to arrive and a lack of training meant staff were unable to administer the drugs Caroline urgently needed.

When she arrived at Kettering Hospital and despite her specifically asking for it, doctors had not been briefed on her situation. Inexperienced staff wasted yet more time deciding what to do, and it was only when a colleague of Caroline's came by that she finally and in the nick of time received the life-saving injections of calcium and magnesium that stopped her proceeding into cardiac arrest.

"Healthcare is always going to be expensive and the cost of paying for it will continue to rise as the population ages. The money to pay for it will have to come out of taxation and I'd like the Parties vying for our votes on 7 May to be more honest about that," she says, adding: "Maintaining the status quo is simply unacceptable; my story is an alarming example of what is already happening within our healthcare system after budgets have been cut. Serious and often fatal errors across vital services such as A&E and the Ambulance service are now being made on a daily basis."

Although Caroline's case is now settled, the incident has prompted her to raise serious questions about the impact of centrally determined discharge targets and the potential of financial penalties, on patient care and survival rates.

Caroline says: "NHS Accident & Emergency performance targets have to be scrapped immediately. None of them are based on evidence of achieving better outcomes for patients. Instead, they are costing the NHS millions of pounds which could be better spent on treatment and care".

"The Focus of the NHS has shifted from treating patients to simply moving them from one place to another; it is not on their care, not on the desired outcome and not on their well-being. I have heard frightening examples from my former colleagues about people being inappropriately discharged and who have died as a result. I could very easily have been one of them."

Caroline today suffers from PTSD. She has now put her house up for sale as the memories of nearly losing her life linger in the view of the sun rising over the valley.

David Thomas, a specialist medical negligence solicitor from Simpson Millar, represented Caroline throughout her claim. He says: "Although Caroline's story is shocking, incidents of lacking, delayed or negligent treatment are becoming increasingly frequent. There is no question that we are seeing the fallout of budget cuts in the NHS in terms of a drop in the standard of patient care and, in some cases, people are paying with their lives".

"The serious failings in Caroline's case nearly cost her life. Had she not been a medical professional and in the unusual position of being able to self-diagnose, it is entirely likely that she would not be around today".

"Although the Trust was swift in admitting liability, we had to negotiate long and hard to secure a settlement which accurately reflected Caroline's loss of earnings. Also, while the courts no longer distinguish between physical and mental injuries, we still have to battle with a perception from the defendant's side that psychological scars from trauma or injury are less worthy of compensation, or somehow the victim's own fault. This is absolutely not the case; a mental illness can have an equally devastating impact on a person's life. You just can't see the scars".

"Had Caroline received the appropriate treatment, she would still be working as a successful NHS consultant today. Instead she had to take early retirement and continues to suffer the stressful effects of nearly dying at the hands of the people she used to worked alongside."


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