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Written by Susan Brown

Boyes Turner’s medical negligence solicitors have secured an admission of liability for the bereaved husband of a 70-year-old woman who died from an untreated pulmonary embolism. The coroner returned a verdict of death by ‘natural causes to which neglect contributed’ after evidence given at the inquest suggested that the defendant hospital medical staff had failed to appreciate the significance of her abnormally high D-dimer test result. Correct treatment with anti-coagulants would have avoided the deceased’s death.  

The deceased had attended the hospital’s A&E department complaining of a cough, shortness of breath and feeling unwell for three months. Antibiotics had not helped and she had lost weight over the previous month. Initial blood test results were abnormal and a D-dimer test was significantly raised. These were all indications that she was suffering from venous thromboembolism (a blood clot in a vein). Further investigations, including a chest x-ray and a CT pulmonary angiogram, suggested that she had a pulmonary embolism. Correct action would have been to give anti-coagulant treatment but the results were misinterpreted and she was incorrectly diagnosed with bronchial asthma. She was given an inhaler and discharged home.

Four days later she attended her GP complaining of an overnight cough and was prescribed an inhaler. In the early hours of the next morning she was taken by ambulance back to A&E. By this time her shortness of breath was getting worse, her pulse and respiratory rate were abnormally fast and her blood pressure and oxygen saturations were low. On admission to hospital an electrocardiogram (ECG) showed classical features of pulmonary embolism and her blood gas results were abnormal. She was given antibiotics but no action was taken on the abnormal D-dimer and the other test results from her previous attendance. She died later that morning from a cardiac arrest.

A post-mortem identified the cause of death as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. An inquest was held at which the coroner’s verdict was that the deceased had died of ‘natural causes to which neglect contributed’ based on evidence that suggested that the hospital medical staff had not appreciated the significance of the abnormally high D-dimer result. If the result had been acted upon properly, the deceased would have been given anti-coagulant treatment on her first hospital admission which would have prevented her death from the pulmonary embolism. Continued failings in her subsequent care led to further missed opportunities to treat this life-threatening condition.

When Boyes Turner approached the defendant hospital, inviting them to admit liability early to reduce litigation costs and time, they initially refused to do so, even though the hospital’s own internal investigation report contained criticisms similar to those of the coroner. We obtained supportive evidence from an independent medical expert and served a formal letter of claim on the defendant, at which point they finally admitted liability for the deceased’s death. An apology was made to the  bereaved husband shortly before his own death. As the deceased now had no living dependants, the claim for the family was recalculated, as required by law, and a settlement of £46,500 was negotiated for the deceased’s family.

If you have suffered serious injury as a result of medical negligence contact one of our specialist solicitors by email