With sepsis on the increase, it’s more important than ever to raise public awareness of the importance of speed in the diagnosis and treatment of this devastating condition. Here at Boyes Turner, Julie Marsh has recovered compensation for clients whose life-changing disability arose from sepsis but could have been avoided with prompt recognition and appropriate action. We asked Julie to tell us how she approaches these claims and why she believes they are so important .
What information do you need from someone who has concerns about whether their sepsis was correctly diagnosed and treated?
When a client first contacts me, I always listen to their recollection and their concerns about the care they received. It’s really important to understand exactly what has happened and how the client feels about it.
Before I can decide whether a medical negligence investigation should take place, I usually ask the client to let me know:
- what symptoms they experienced and for how long;
- details of their attendances at the GP or hospital and advice they were given;
- what the outcome has been and the impact of any medical delay in their diagnosis and/or treatment.
Can you investigate a case whilst an individual is still having treatment?
Yes. The fact that a claim is being investigated whilst medical treatment is ongoing should make no difference to the standard of medical care being given. In fact, it is better to investigate a claim as soon as possible, as the recollections of everyone involved will be clearer.
Another good reason for seeking advice sooner rather than later is that there are legal time limits for bringing a claim for medical negligence, so it is always better to investigate concerns as soon as possible.
How are sepsis negligence claims funded?
Usually the case will be funded by a Conditional Fee Agreement (also called a “no win no fee agreement”) with After The Event insurance. This means that the client doesn’t have to pay any legal costs at the start of the claim and will not be liable for any costs if the case is unsuccessful. If the claim succeeds, the majority of the claimant’s legal fees are paid for by the defendant.
I take great care in explaining the funding arrangement in detail to my clients to make sure they are entirely comfortable with the agreement. Where a claim, even if successful on its merits, is unlikely to be financially viable for the client, I let them know at the outset, as we would never advise anyone to pursue a disproportionately expensive claim.
How do you investigate whether negligent treatment occurred?
As the circumstances and facts of each case are different, my approach depends on what’s needed in the individual case. The GP and hospital medical records are needed in every case, so I always request these at the very beginning and review them carefully. I also take a detailed statement from my client and any family members or friends who may have been involved, which may help support the case further.
For a medical negligence claim to succeed, it must be supported by expert evidence. I always look very carefully at the care that my client received at the first medical unit that they attended. In cases involving a delay in diagnosis of sepsis, timing is paramount and so the concern is usually about standard of care they were given whilst at accident and emergency, but sometimes the client might still receive negligent treatment even after they are transferred to critical care. It’s important that I instruct an independent expert from each of those areas to review the medical notes and comment on the standard of the care given. If the expert concludes that the care was below a reasonable standard, they will also advise on what should have happened instead.
Once I have identified any negligent treatment, I then need to consider whether the outcome for my client would have been different had the care been of an appropriate standard, so I will ask a consultant in critical care to comment on this.
If you find that sepsis was not adequately diagnosed or promptly treated, how do you calculate the level of compensation for your client?
It is important to highlight that as everyone’s life, family and work circumstances are unique, no two cases are ever going to be valued the same way. I talk carefully with each client to understand the physical, psychological and financial impact they have suffered from their injury.
One of the most life-changing outcomes from sepsis occurs when the individual needs an amputation as a result of the delay in receiving appropriate treatment. If this has happened, I will look at prosthetic treatment, along with rehabilitation, such as occupational therapy and physiotherapy, which might improve the quality of my client’s everyday life.
For every case, I will look at what my client needs, not only now but also for the rest of their life. I will include the costs of any private treatment or therapy required. I usually instruct experts to help assess the client’s current difficulties and their future outlook. This might involve evidence from various experts, for example, those who specialise in prosthetics and care.
Why do you think it’s important for cases involving sepsis to be investigated?
Sepsis devastates lives. It can be fatal for some, or it can cause devastating lifelong injuries for others, like my client, Jan. After sepsis, some people experience post-sepsis syndrome, which can cause both psychological and physical symptoms affecting their everyday life, including lethargy, poor mobility, muscle weakness and insomnia. The impact of sepsis can be far reaching, affecting anyone, from a very young child to an elderly person. The harsh reality is that this can all be avoided if sepsis is diagnosed and treated without delay.
A lot of work is being done by organisations such as The UK Sepsis Trust and many others to help raise public awareness of the signs and symptoms of sepsis. Sadly, however, sometimes mistakes still happen which result in a delay in diagnosis or treatment and death or life-changing disability. Whilst I find that clients have their own reasons for pursuing a claim, many also feel driven to raise awareness in the hope that their experience leads to faster recognition and treatment for others. Claims are important because in addition to compensating the injured patient, they also raise awareness amongst the healthcare professions more quickly.
For our seriously injured clients, whilst the clock can never be turned back, the compensation that we recover for them through a claim can make a real difference to their quality of life. This might allow them access to private therapy, or the provision of specialist prosthetics. It can also offer a degree of security for the future and help them back to an independent, fulfilled life.
Our expert solicitors have helped lots of people over the years recover significant compensation to help them manage their ongoing symptoms, restore mobility through rehabilitation to make their quality of life the best it can be.
If you or a loved one have suffered from a delayed diagnosis of sepsis then email the team to talk about making a claim at email@example.com.