Grandmother ‘could be alive today’ if doctors had acted in time
19:06 12 June 2013
Family of Christine Smith win legal battle after North Devon and Plymouth health trusts admit failings in diagnosis and care.
A North Devon grandmother who died of a massive brain haemorrhage might still be alive today if doctors had diagnosed her condition and carried out life saving surgery, it has emerged.
Christine Smith, 67, died in July 2009 after first doctors at North Devon District Hospital and then again at Plymouth did not act quickly enough to identify and treat the deadly brain aneurisms she was suffering from.
Today (Wednesday) her daughter Beverley Hopkins, from Braunton, spoke of her relief after a four year legal battle ended with both Northern Devon Healthcare and Plymouth Hospitals NHS trusts admitted responsibility for failings in her mum’s care and agreed earlier intervention would probably have saved her life.
The case was handled by law firm Irwin Mitchell, culminating with both trusts apologising and an undisclosed settlement paid to the family.
Christine first began suffering symptoms of vertigo and headaches in 2005 and her GP referred her to a specialist team at NDDH, which found nothing wrong.
She had MRI scans in 2006 and 2007 as her symptoms continued to worsen but both came back clear. In 2009 she had pain and blurring in her left eye as well as the ongoing headaches and vertigo and underwent further scans at Barnstaple, but it was still weeks before doctors diagnosed her.
She was finally urgently referred for further neurological assessment and treatment at Derriford Hospital on July 2, 2009 but staff there did not admit her for surgery – instead scheduling an appointment for July 20.
She died on July 17 at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol after collapsing at home the day before.
“Mum trusted she was in the best hands and when she was told there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with her there was of course no reason for her not to believe it,” said Beverley, 49.
“It breaks my heart to think of the pain she was in and how much she suffered and the fact more wasn’t done to help her.”
In a joint statement from both trusts, Dr Alison Diamond, medical director at Northern Devon Healthcare said: “I absolutely understand how devastating this must have been for the family and would like to apologise once more for the failure to diagnose in this very sad case.
“We took this incident very seriously and carried out a full internal investigation, sharing the outcome face-to-face with the family in 2010.
“The investigation recognised there were shortcomings in the care Mrs Smith received and brought a range of recommendations to prevent this occurring to another patient.”
The trusts said they were committed ‘to the highest standards of healthcare’ and ‘all those involved with the care and treatment of Christine Smith profoundly regret that opportunities were missed to provide her with the care she required’.
Beverley said the admission of responsibility had given the family answers and a sense of justice but nothing could bring their mum back.
“I just hope lessons truly have been learnt to prevent any other families from enduring the same heartache that we’ve had to,” she said.
Andrew Bowman at Irwin Mitchell added: “Christine was the backbone of the family, caring each day for her 91-year-old mum and before that caring for her husband before he died of a lung infection in 1995.
“But she was forced to suffer unnecessarily as a result of doctors failing to send her for the appropriate tests which would have highlighted the deadly aneurisms, despite her showing red flag symptoms of the condition.
“This case was never about the money - it was about finding justice and accountability for Christine’s death and we hope the successful conclusion has finally brought this for Beverley and the rest of the family.”