News in The Telegraph has stories of patients at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital who were infected with lymphoma, a form of cancer, after receiving kidney transplants.
These are shocking stories, not least for patients who have faced one devastating illness only now to face another. They deserve every sympathy.
Two patients have instructed Clinical Negligence Solicitors to investigate but the cases are unlikely to be straightforward. They raise two important clinical negligence issues.
The first is whether adequate checks were done to identify lymphoma before the transplants took place. The kidneys came from patients who had recently died. The transplants had to be carried out quickly and decisions as to whether the organs were suitable would have been made on the basis of what was known about the conditions suffered by the donors.
However it may well be that transplants have to be done before a post-mortem examination. Sometimes that post-mortem will reveal a condition, such as lymphoma, which had not previously produced signs or symptoms. So the merits of a clinical negligence claim will depend on what was known in these circumstances.
The second issue is whether the patients gave proper consent in the light of the known risks of contracting lymphoma or other disease from the transplant. All medical procedures involve some risk and patients undergoing kidney transplants are given a standard NHS leaflet outlining the risks.
Patients are generally warned of significant risks, significant because they occur frequently or are particularly serious; but patients are not necessarily warned of all. How much to tell a patient is a matter of judgment. Some patients are better able to assess the risks and benefits of a procedure than others. The risk of cancerous tissue or blood being transferred is low, 1 in between 500 and 5,000 according to the research.
Again the merits of a claim for clinical negligence compensation in these cases will depend on what the patients were told, and what a reasonable doctor would have told them. The latter involves a judgment call.
Paul Sankey is a Principal Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers.
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