‘Clerical error’ costs health trust £1.2million
11:59 16 July 2014
North Devon health bosses settle out of court after nine year legal battle.
NORTHERN Devon Healthcare Trust has been hit with a bill for more than £1million after being sued by a former patient.
The trust agreed to settle out of court with Edward Appleby following a legal battle over his treatment at North Devon District Hospital in 2005, which he claimed resulted in the loss of his leg.
The trust has not admitted liability for negligence but has apologised to him for ‘incomplete documentation’ on his care following a road accident, after some of his medical notes could not be found.
It has offered to pay the 40-year-old a six figure sum in damages, which together with legal costs could see the bill rise to an estimated £1.2m.
But Mr Appleby said he was surprised to hear the trust was putting the loss of his leg and a seven figure payout down to a problem with paperwork.
The former triathlete, climber and Territorial Army reservist had been living in Bampton at the time and was a qualified osteopath with his own practice at Dulverton, but has been unable to work since his injury, caused by a road accident.
‘Nine lost years’
He said endless operations, medical appointments and the lengthy legal battle had cost nearly a decade of his life and left him unable to work.
“That was nine years where other men would be progressing their careers, getting married and having children, but I haven’t been able to do that,” he said.
Mr Appleby was treated at the hospital after his right leg was badly broken in a motorcycle collision near East Anstey on June 2, 2005.
He sued the trust for negligence, alleging that following a morning operation at Barnstaple to align his broken femur, he had been left in a corridor ‘screaming in agony’ for hours because the blood supply to his leg had been cut off.
Despite begging staff for assistance and identifying his own condition as compartment syndrome – swelling which restricts veins and arteries - he claimed his pleas were brushed off until 8.15pm that night, when he finally underwent emergency surgery.
By then part of his leg had died. As part of his legal claim, independent expert and orthopaedic consultant Professor John Fairclough stated ‘In my opinion… the standard of management fell below that of a reasonably competent practitioner in failing to diagnose a compartment syndrome’.
The case also alleged that when he woke up the next day he found the femur incorrectly aligned, so his foot was facing the wall.
Despite numerous operations at different hospitals in the following years, the leg was eventually amputated.
The claim lodged with the High Court also listed a catalogue of alleged negligence by hospital staff in Barnstaple, including that when admitted he weighed 84 kilos and only 75 just 12 days later and was suffering from bedsores.
Now the legal settlement has been agreed, Mr Appleby, who now lives in Exeter, intends to pursue his complaint via the health ombudsman.
In a statement, the trust confirmed its settlement offer had been accepted. Dr Alison Diamond, chief executive, said: “The trust would like to apologise to Mr Appleby for the incomplete documentation surrounding his care.
“While we have confidence in the quality of care provided to Mr Appleby, the investigation of the claim was complicated by the fact there were shortcomings in record-keeping on the part of the trust.
“We are a learning organisation and have worked hard to improve the quality of our documentation over recent years.
“We conduct regular internal and external audits reviewing the quality of documentation of clinical care to check our progress and can confirm we have made great improvements on this score.”
His solicitor Jonathan Zimmern of Fieldfisher, said: “His amputation had a devastating effect on his life and his career and I hope that the compensation he has received will help him to get the prosthetics and rehabilitation he needs to move forward.”