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Trust admits liability for negligent prescription of Diclofenac

Diclofenac victim receives settlement and apology from Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

24 June 2014

A 52 year old university lecturer has received an apology and substantial damages after she underwent major reconstructive bowel surgery after being prescribed the anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac by doctors at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London.

In 2009, when aged 46, Elizabeth received the results of an abnormal cervical smear test; further investigations confirmed an early-stage cancer less than 1mm across in her cervix.

Unfortunately, the cancer was mistakenly reported as being 7mm, which is much more serious. Aside from causing Elizabeth a great deal of anxiety, the misrepresentation of the cancer also resulted in her taking the decision to undergo a hysterectomy in 2009.

Following her hysterectomy, Elizabeth was prescribed Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, which is not recommended for anyone suffering from an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Elizabeth had been a patient in the Guy’s & St Thomas’ inflammatory bowel disease clinic for some years and the doctors were therefore aware of the fact that she had a bowel condition.

After taking the drug Elizabeth suffered severe inflammation and bleeding in her bowel, which resulted in her being re-admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital. The damaged bowel had to be removed by surgery. Elizabeth subsequently underwent an emergency sub-total colectomy and ileostomy procedure and was left with a stoma.

Elizabeth required further surgery in 2010 to construct a loop ileostomy and ileo-anal pouch and another operation to close the ileostomy in 2011.

This long programme of surgery had a huge effect on her relationship with her employer and her role as a lecturer.

Acting on behalf of Elizabeth in a claim against the Trust, Emmalene Bushnell from the clinical negligence team at law firm Leigh Day obtained expert evidence from a Professor of Digestive Diseases, who concluded that the Trust failed to take into account Elizabeth’s underlying bowel condition when prescribing Diclofenac.

This caused severe damage to the bowel and led directly to major reconstructive surgeries.

The Trust admitted liability for the negligent prescription of Diclofenac and also that it had misreported the size of the cancerous cells following Elizabeth’s post-smear investigations.

The Trust accepted that had Elizabeth not been prescribed with Diclofenac she would not have required an emergency admission to St Thomas’ Hospital and three major surgical procedures.

The case was settled for an apology from the Trust and a six-figure sum.

Emmalene Bushnell, from the clinical negligence team at Leigh Day, said:

“The effects of the prescription of Diclofenac for a patient with a serious gastro intestinal condition, such as the one Elizabeth had, are well known. It is inconceivable that a doctor with the medical records of a patient can make such a fundamental error.

“Whilst we are pleased that this case is now resolved, the serious effects this negligence had on Elisabeth’s life, her job and her relationships, should never be underestimated.”

Elizabeth, commenting, on the settlement said:

“These incidents need never have come to law. I noticed the problems at the time, but my concerns were dismissed. It was very frightening to be a patient in a hospital that did not acknowledge its mistakes.

“Leigh Day was determined to achieve justice for me, and it was a great relief to have Emmalene on my side. Five years on I am still adjusting to my new body and its constraints, and I am getting back on my feet professionally. My injuries were severe, but had there been a few home truths at the time, I am sure that the impact on me would have been much easier to bear.”

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