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Hospital Trusts Admit ‘Gross Failings’ Which Led To Fatal Brain Haemorrhage

Daughter Speaks Of Relief After Lawyers Conclude Four-Year Battle For Justice


By Helen MacGregor

The daughter of a grandmother-of-ten who died of a massive brain haemorrhage after doctors failed to recognise her ‘red flag’ symptoms and give her life-saving surgery spoke of her relief today as two NHS Trusts admitted failings in her care.

Investigations by medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell revealed doctors within Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust failed to diagnose Christine Smith’s persistent headaches, vertigo and numbness in the face were side effects of two deadly enlarged blood vessels called aneurisms putting pressure on her brain.

To make matters worse, once the 67-year-old mum-of-four was finally diagnosed and urgently referred to Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust in July 2009, doctors there delayed assessing and treating her after failing to realise how serious her condition was. She died three days before an appointment was scheduled of a massive brain haemorrhage after collapsing at home.

The NHS Trusts have since admitted surgery to treat the blood vessels at any point before Christine’s death would have relieved the pressure on her brain and in all probability, she would still be alive today.

Distraught and desperate for answers as to whether more could have been done to save Christine daughter Beverley Hopkins, from Braunton, turned to medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell’s South West Office for help.

She is speaking out for the first time after both hospital Trusts admitted responsibility for failings in her mum’s care and agreed that earlier intervention would probably have saved her life.

The NHSLA has now agreed to pay an undisclosed settlement for the family’s loss and to cover the costs of caring for Christine’s elderly mum – a job she was dedicated to every day and something Beverley has now taken over.

Both Trusts also formally apologised and confirmed in a letter from their solicitor that ‘the clinicians involved are aware of her (Christine’s) death and have reflected on their practices in order to avoid repetition of this tragic event.’

Andrew Bowman, who specialises in medical negligence claims at Irwin Mitchell, said: “The gross failings made by these two hospital Trusts have seen Christine’s family left devastated by their sudden and unexpected loss.

“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.  Just one operation would in all likelihood have saved her life, but sadly it wasn’t done in time.

“We hope further training in recognising and treating aneurisms has been implemented by both Trusts to protect the safety of future patients.

“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.”

Christine first began suffering symptoms of vertigo and headaches in 2005 and her GP referred her to a specialist team at North Devon District Hospital who could find 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 in the May at Barnstaple. However, it was still weeks before doctors diagnosed her.

Eventually Christine was urgently referred for further neurological assessment and treatment of the aneurisms at Derriford Hospital on 2 July 2009 but staff there failed to recognise the severity of her condition and failed to admit her for surgery – instead scheduling an appointment for 20 July.

She died on 17 July at the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol after collapsing at home the day before.

North Devon Healthcare NHS Trust admitted further assessments should have been carried out throughout 2009 and the severity of Christine’s symptoms should have meant she was urgently referred to the neurosurgical centre in Plymouth sooner. It agreed earlier diagnosis would have meant Christine could have had surgery which would have treated the aneurisms.

Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust admitted that if Christine had been seen between the 2 and 15 July as the urgent referral suggested, she could have been treated and was likely to have made a good recovery.

Beverley, 49, said: “Mum trusted that 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.

“It breaks my heart to think of the pain she was in and how much she suffered and the fact that more wasn’t done to help her. She was such a caring and loyal person, but sadly the doctors didn’t show her the compassion she deserved.

“We were all devastated by her death but when I wrote to the hospital trusts and health ombudsman to find out what had happened and they tried to fob me off for two years it was another kick in the teeth.

“It generally felt they were trying to brush it under the carpet and after getting nowhere for two years I decided legal action was my only option.

“The admission of responsibility finally gives us answers and a sense of justice but sadly nothing can bring 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.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to medical negligence claims