60 seconds with... Sita Soni shares her experience in running cervical cancer clinical negligence cases

60 seconds with... Sita Soni shares her experience in running cervical cancer clinical negligence cases

Following on from Cervical Cancer Awareness Week we asked Sita Soni, an associate solicitor in the clinical negligence team, about her experience of successfully investigating cervical cancer medical negligence cases.

What key information do you need from an individual who has concerns about their cervical cancer medical care?

I always listen to the client’s recollection and their concerns about the care they received first. It’s really important to understand exactly what has happened and how the client feels about it. To understand whether there an investigation should take place, I usually ask the client to let me know:

  • What, if any, symptoms they experienced
  • Their history of smear testing
  • Any relevant attendances at the GP or hospital and advice they were given
  • What diagnosis they have been given
  • What treatment has been advised/given
  • The impact of the diagnosis and/or treatment

Can you investigate a case even if the individual is still having treatment?

Yes. The fact that a medical negligence case is ongoing should make no difference to the medical care the patient receives. It is best to investigate a claim as soon as possible, as the client’s recollection of events will be clearer. 

There are also legal time limits for bringing a claim for medical negligence, so it is better to investigate concerns as soon as possible after the patient suspects that errors have occurred.

How will a cervical cancer medical negligence case will be 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. In a successful claim the majority of the claimant’s legal fees are paid 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 claimant, I let them know at the outset as we would never advise a client to pursue a disproportionately expensive claim.

How do you investigate whether the hospital/GP has acted negligently?

All cases are different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to investigating a case. I will, however, always need the claimant’s medical records from their GP surgery and hospital, so in every case I  request these and consider them carefully. I take a detailed statement from my client to record clearly their recollection of what happened. 

Medical negligence claims must be supported by expert evidence. When investigating cervical cancer claims, a gynaecological oncologist is usually instructed to comment on whether the treatment was negligent and if so, to advise on what should have happened instead. The gynaecological oncologist will also comment on the impact, if any, of the negligent treatment, for example, whether intensive treatment like radiotherapy could have been avoided with correct medical care.

Other medical experts may also be required. We select our experts carefully according to the needs of the individual case.

How do you calculate the level of compensation in a cervical cancer case?

The valuation is tailored to the individual client. No two cases are the same because no two clients are the same. I discuss with each client the physical and psychological impact of the negligence, and the extent of their financial loss. We take into account the side effects of any avoidable treatment (i.e. fatigue, pain, bowel and bladder impairment), whether they been able to go back to work or are now on reduced hours and so experiencing a loss of earnings, whether they need extra help at home with cleaning and other chores. The aim is to help my clients rebuild their lives after a cancer diagnosis.

Some of the difficulties are permanent and may require medical treatment or therapy to alleviate, so I look at my clients’ needs for help not only now but also for the rest of their lives. I include the costs of any treatment or therapy required in the claim. I usually instruct experts to help assess the client’s current difficulties and their future outlook. This might involve evidence from a colorectal expert, a pain expert, a care expert and a psychiatrist. 

Why do you think it’s important for cervical cancer negligence cases to be investigated?

Each of my clients have their own reasons for pursuing a medical negligence claim. Some say closure is the most important reason for them. They want to know if things went wrong in their medical care and what could have been avoided. Understanding what has happened allows them to move on. Some clients are seeking help and support to put their lives back on track with private medical treatment and therapy specific to their needs.  Others are concerned about the financial implications for their family if they can no longer work to their full capacity after cancer treatment and want the help that a successful claim can provide by alleviating the financial hardship which often follows cancer negligence. 

My experience in working closely with our clients and volunteering for Jo’s Trust, the UK’s only cervical cancer charity, has equipped me to support my clients during and after the process, to understand their concerns, and fully answer their questions about the next steps.

Sita has recently achieved a £575,000 compensation settlement following a delay in diagnosis of cervical cancer. For more information about this case, have a look at our website here.

The service was personal, professional and considered. I was treated so kindly and in the end I knew that not only had I found the right organisation but also the right person.

Boyes Turner client

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