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Lawyers at Wiltshire-based firm Withy King have won a major victory against two hospital trusts, with a Coroner’s Court returning the unusual verdict of death by “natural causes, contributed to by neglect”.
A jury at the Westminster Coroner’s Court last Wednesday (4 February) found in a split decision that “glaring or flagrant failure” by the Chelsea and West-minster Hospitals NHS Trust and/or the Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust contributed to the death of 30-year-old Lee Cafferkey.
In early 2003, Cafferkey was twice discharged without treatment from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Casualty Department, despite blood tests revealing that he was suffering from a rare form of leukaemia. Cafferkey died one week later. Expert evidence showed that he would have survived had he been treated sooner.
Withy King instructed Sarah Boyd of Unity Street Chambers in Bristol. Radcliffes le Brasseur acted for the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Trust, while Capsticks advised the Hammersmith Trust.
Capsticks partner Rob Wilson said such verdicts, although strictly incompatible with the narrow ambit of the coroner’s inquest, are becoming more common under the Human Rights Act.
The head of Withy King’s clinical negligence department Simon Elliman said: “While [the verdict] doesn’t decide any future civil claims, it certainly paves the way.” Cafferkey’s mother has already instructed the firm to pursue a damages claim.