Lincolnshire NHS campaigners have said hundreds of patients could be in line for compensation because hospital targets were allegedly put above patient safety in the lead up to the damning Keogh review.
The campaign group Cure the NHS Lincolnshire, part of a national movement formed in the aftermath of the Mid Staffordshire scandal, is asking patients who believe they may have been treated inadequately by United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust (ULHT) between 2009 and 2013 to come forward with their experiences.
The group claims that overcrowded hospitals were linked to over 600 more deaths than expected in this period, and that senior managers were aware of issues but failed to act.
United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust (ULHT) has said it does not recognise the claims made by the group, nor the data that is being used for its appeal, and says the story is part of an ongoing campaign by its former chairman.
‘Increased risk to patients’
Steering the Lincolnshire campaign is former non-executive ULHT chair David Bowles, who stepped down from his role in 2009 due to concerns over the safety of practice and targets.
He claims that between late 2009 to early 2013 Lincolnshire’s hospitals failed to implement an NHS ‘Code’, or ‘Capacity Review’, which would have temporarily suspended targets, at a time of high demand.
Health analyst and world expert on hospital performance Professor Sir Brian Jarman, consulted as part of the group’s research, suggested there were 677 more deaths than expected in the three years up to 2013.
In February 2013, ULHT was put in special measures following the Keogh review into care and mortality rates.
New legal advice, commissioned by the group from Bindmans Solicitors and Littleton Chamber and seen by The Lincolnite, indicates waiting time targets had been put before the safety of patients in the three years before this, a claimed breach of the NHS Code of Conduct.
The advice follows a Supreme Court decision on an incident in Scotland in 1999.
The ruling in Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board means patients should be told of factors which may affect their treatment including the implications of any capacity issues the hospital faces.
David Bowles said the legal advice they have received indicates “patients had been put at risk” and the NHS was left open to legal action. If existing claimants had been misled by the suppression of material facts, their claims may also be reopened.
He added: “We have already had contact from patients and whistleblowers alleging that patients suffered, not just in terms of dignity or basic care, but specific allegations of life changing consequences and even regrettably instances of mortality.
“If patients came to harm through overcrowding, they or their relatives need to know the facts behind their poor treatment and decide if they wish to take the matter further.
“Cure the NHS Lincolnshire has published information on their website to help guide any patient or relatives with concerns.”
Family settle negligence claim
The campaign group highlighted the case of Ray Law, 60, who died at Lincoln County Hospital on February 12, 2010 from complications following a prostate cancer operation.
A memo by a senior doctor, which was leaked by a whistleblower three years later, revealed concerns about the incident, saying targets were putting “unsustainable pressure” on surgeons.
The inquest, in March 2014, heard from the memo Mr Law should have been put on a high dependency ward, but ended up on a general ward due to “increasing pressures”.
Despite this, his family were not told. They resolved to seek legal action against the trust. The family recently settled a ‘six figure sum’ negligence claim against the NHS, campaigners have said.
ULHT won’t accept claims
ULHT disputed the claims when approached by The Lincolnite and said there is no national target on occupancy.
Trust CEO Jan Sobieraj said: “We do not recognise the claims that are being made by Cure the NHS or recognise their data from that period.
“We believe this story is part of an ongoing campaign by our former Chairman David Bowles who resigned in 2009 as he disagreed with national NHS targets.
“As we don’t recognise their data from 2009 to 2013, we can’t accept their interpretation of our mortality figures. It’s important to point out that if there were higher than expected mortality rates, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there were avoidable or unnecessary deaths. Mortality rates act like an alarm and they tell you to check things out and where to look for possible issues.
“There are many other factors which can affect a trust’s mortality rates including the quality of the data upon which the calculation is made such as level of detail within a patient’s notes.
“Cure the NHS is referring to historical data. David Bowles hasn’t worked at the trust for seven years, and therefore doesn’t have an insight into the running of the trust from July 2009 to 2013.
“This certainly does not represent the situation in our trust at present. Our HSMR (hospital standardised mortality ratio) for the last 12 months is 101 and therefore in line with what’s expected nationally (100).
“We are always striving to improve the care we provide, and look to learn from all incidents and complaints. We aspire to give excellent care to every patient.”