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        Case Study: Mrs K

        Mrs K had been pushing a shopping trolley when she tripped and fell heavily on her wrists. She attended A&E where she was advised that both of her wrists had been broken.

        This initial treatment was found to be non-negligent. Our client received an x-ray confirming the fracture, had both wrists manipulated and put in temporary casts. She was also given medication to deal with the significant pain she was suffering.

        However, it was at this point that Mrs K’s care would drop below acceptable standards due to a simple clerical error. Our client was advised at A&E that she should see a consultant in one week time and that she would receive a letter confirming the appointment in the coming days. However, this letter never arrived. After several weeks of chasing 5 separate hospital departments, it eventually transpired that Mrs K’s details had been misplaced, the letter never sent and the appointment never made.

        Mrs K was eventually seen 3 weeks after her initial injury, a delay of 2 weeks, at which point her right wrist had begun the healing process and there was no possibility of further manipulation. The fracture had collapsed in the wrong position and appeared deformed.  Mrs K also suffered from considerable pain and limited use of her wrists, needing her daughter to take care of everyday activities. She now faces the prospect of osteotomy surgery with bone grafting. Her wrist will take 12 months to fully heal, with the possibility of permanent disfigurement.

        A hospital has a duty to make sure that their administrative systems do not suffer these gross oversights and that patients are seen promptly, especially if their injuries present a time constraint. A failure to perform this duty satisfactorily by organising a crucial follow-up appointment will be seen legally as a negligent. Had Mrs K been reviewed 1 week later as she was supposed to, it was more than likely that the extent of her injury would have been realised and she would have underwent further manipulation. She would have been in a cast for 6 weeks, required 6 weeks of physiotherapy and been fully healed with no permanent pain or discomfort within 3 months. As a result, we were able to get the defendants to admit liability and obtain our client significant compensation.

        Delays in treatment can often lead to considerable pain and distress to clients. Whilst we must accept that hospitals are busy places, this is no excuse for a hospital failing to meet the standard of care that patients have a right to expect. Hospitals and their staff accept a duty of care once they begin treatment and this includes a duty to follow up promptly and not loose a client in the system.