A widower who believed that his wife’s life could have been saved if the hospital had correctly diagnosed and treated her illness has finally won his battle for admission of liability, seven years later. 60-year old Mrs Anna Eastaff of Edgware, Middlesex was admitted to Barnet General Hospital in March 2000 after suffering with abdominal pain. She died just a few days later of an undiagnosed and untreated perforated bowel. A CT scan taken on 31 March 2000 showed clear signs of perforation but was reported as normal by the hospital’s radiologist.

Concerned that she had not been seen to correctly, Robert, Mrs Eastaff’s husband, complained to the Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust. They replied that everything that could be done to save Mrs Eastaff’s life had been done. Meanwhile the hospital did not send a discharge letter to Mrs Eastaff’s GP and took six months to send the GP the post mortem result. Mr Eastaff continued to correspond with the Trust and in December 2001, out of sheer frustration, involved the Ombudsman who advised continuing with local resolution.

Mr Eastaff then asked the Trust set up an independent review panel to investigate circumstances surrounding his wife’s death. The panel did not report back until October 2003. It concluded that the CT scan had been misinterpreted, but in any case it would have made no difference and that she would probably have died anyway. The panel made some recommendations and criticisms of the Trust.

Legal Assistance from UNISON and Thompsons Solicitors

The Trust did not act on these and Mr Eastaff involved the Ombudsman again. In September 2005 the Ombudsman fully upheld Mr Eastaff’s complaint. Through his union UNISON, Mr Eastaff then instructed Thompsons Solicitors who obtained medical evidence confirming that if the scan had been properly read, Mrs Eastaff would have lived. A formal claim was therefore made in May 2006. The claim was never answered. In October Mr Eastaff issued court proceedings. On 14 December, the last date to file a Defence to the claim, the Trust’s solicitors finally admitted liability.

Acting for the Eastaff family, Sarah Goodman, a specialist in clinical negligence with Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Mr Eastaff has shown remarkable tenacity because throughout he believed that his wife should be alive today were it not for the incompetence of the doctors. Others would have given up, faced with the Trust’s lack of interest, straight answers or respect to Mr Eastaff and his wife.”

“This is an extreme but not unusual case of Trusts refusing to do anything until proceedings are started and then caving in. This is worrying because the recently enacted NHS Redress scheme will exclude a claimant’s lawyers and will leave it to Trusts to investigate and make offers in cases less than £20,000. Mr Eastaff used all the alternatives to legal action available to him and received neither admission nor apology. You question whether anything would have happened here but for legal action.”

Commenting, Mr Eastaff said: “I actually had no suspicion that the CT scan had been misread. I was more worried about the lack of cover at the weekend as my wife’s condition deteriorated. I knew something was wrong – especially when they failed to explain the cause of Anna’s death. I’ve been appalled by the behaviour of the Trust. It is one thing having to come to terms with the unexpected and unnecessary loss of a loved one, but no-one should have to endure the anguish piled on top by incompetent and seemingly disinterested administrators.”

The Independent has also published this story.