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Sally Gleeson medical negligence lawyer discussing medical malpractice on 30 July 2019

Sally Gleeson on 2GB discussing Medical negligence - 30 July 2019

Tuesday, 30 July 2019


SP – Steve Price / SG – Sally Gleeson /C1,2,3, etc – Callers


SP          When we get sick or break a bone, we have to put all our faith into the doctors, nurses and medical staff who are looking after us don’t we, but even in hospitals mistakes can be made with incorrect diagnoses and symptoms not being recognised straight away. So what happens when it goes wrong, who is responsible when you or someone you know is misdiagnosed. That’s what we will talk about in our legal matters segment today and as always we have a $100 Westfield voucher to give away to the caller who asks the best question in our legal matters segment. $100 bucks how good is that. Well Turner Freeman Lawyers provide a range of specialised legal services including compensation and negligence law, employment law and property law. Sally Gleeson is a partner in the Turner Freeman Sydney office and specialises in medical negligence, she joins me now in the studio. Sally good morning to you.

SG         Hi Steve.

SP          How are you this afternoon?

SG         I’m well, you?

SP          I’m very well thank you. We heard recently about this 8 year old boy who died in his sleep after being given the wrong prescription for his sleep medication. Boy oh boy that is awful.

SG         It’s terrible, I mean we often hear in medical negligence about delayed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis or a surgery gone wrong but you don’t often hear about prescription errors and this is a case involving an 8 year old boy as you said, a Canadian boy, and his mother is on the trail of raising awareness of what can happen when prescription errors occur and this is a case where a pharmacy dispensed the wrong medication to the boy, he was on regular medication for a sleep disorder, he was on the medication daily from a young age and it was a type of amino acid so he would drink it because he couldn’t ingest it because of his age and his mother went and picked up the refill and prescribed his dose thinking it was his regular medication when in fact it wasn’t and unfortunately this young little boy, he didn’t wake up in the morning and he passed away. An investigation uncovered that there was a substitution error made at the pharmacy and in fact the wrong medication was put in the designated bottle with the same wrapper on the outside. So he was given a muscle relaxant and effectively what he was given was three times the prescribed dose and his mother is now pushing for law reform to prevent this type of mistake and I see it more often than I like in what I do.

SP          It is a tricky field though isn’t it. I was given some drugs a little while ago to handle an abscess, some antibiotics and they made my heart race and made me feel really uncomfortable and I started sweating and it was clearly a wrong diagnosis. In that situation and in the situation with this boy, is there any recourse for those people when doctors clearly don’t want to get it wrong but when they do?

SG         So the law is tricky, it is complex medical negligence so you’ve got to tick a few boxes, it’s not enough to stuff up to make a mistake, that’s called the breach of duty and there has to be a flow on effect and there has to be permanent damage so in your case Steve, if the medication caused temporary side effects but you recovered completely and you don’t suffer from any permanent side effects, even if there was a mistake, there is nothing you can do by way of recourse, you can’t claim any compensation.

SP          But what if I died?

SG         Totally different scenario. So if you died, again very unfair, the law doesn’t provide any compensation for the person who passed away, their rights are extinguished upon on death but….

SP          If someone is out there, sorry to interrupt, if someone is out there they are given some medication for a problem as a result of the medication they have a heart attack for example and they die, there is no recourse?

SG         Not for them. So their recourse is totally gone, their rights to pain and suffering are gone. If the negligence caused the death than your rights to compensation particularly for pain and suffering are gone. The rights remain with the family members so definitely there is potentially a compensation case but not for the person who passed away.

SP          This situation with this boy, I mean what can we do as patients in terms of seeking advice and also how successful can it be?

SG         So this particular boy obviously this boy could do nothing, it’s not for the patient to understand or know the medication that was prescribed, you rely on the pharmacy, it wasn’t an error committed by the doctor, it was an error committed by the pharmacist dispensing the medication at the particular pharmacy. So there is nothing you can do other than raise awareness about this problem and when patients come forward, this is why I do what I do, when patients come forward, it’s not a matter of blaming or pointing the finger or criticising, it’s about compensation and through compensation change happens.

SP          What’s the difference, things can be misdiagnosed and there is also malpractice, what recourse do you have in the middle of that somewhere?

SG         So medical negligence encompasses a whole array of fields, so there is misdiagnosis, so when a patient goes into see someone about a condition and the health professional says no it’s not this or I don’t know what it is or I can’t tell you what it is or the condition doesn’t surface and is not treated and isn’t pinpointed and that person ends up suffering from something worse than otherwise they could have suffered. That’s a different type of case, that’s a case for a delayed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis, than that patient obviously has compensation rights.

SP          Gee I reckon there’s a lot of this that happens and you probably see a lot of it as well. Your calls with Sally Gleeson, if it has happened to you we want to hear from you after the break.

SP          With Sally Gleeson here, it’s an interesting topic isn’t it. Have you been misdiagnosed, did it lead to some sort of malpractice. Let’s go to Shelly who is on the phone. Good afternoon Shelly, how are you?

C1       Yeh. 

SP       Shelly, did that happen to you at all?

C1       It certainly did. Yes so I was in hospital with mental health actually and um they suggested that I go in for the night um they gave me a sedative and then the next morning I noticed was I was really uncoordinated, um and then they just, I kept saying that I needed to see a medical doctor I think there is something wrong and they kept saying no you can’t see a medical doctor until you see a psychiatrist, um and also I am a single mum, my daughter was only about 18 months old um and anyway by the third day I woke up and I was seeing double and I got up to walk and I just collapsed on the ground and they just took my vitals and anyway I managed to get on the, they still wouldn’t send me a medical doctor, I managed to get on the phone to a friend of mine who is a doctor in QLD who was doing an internship and she asked me my symptoms and she said it sounds like you have got Guillain–Barré Syndrome which is actually an auto immune disease which attacks the central nervous system and your nervous system essentially shuts down and if it gets into your lungs you die, she said you need urgent medical help so she had to call the hospital here in NSW to get a medical doctor to see me in the same hospital to come and do an assessment. Um there was no blood test, no MRI no nothing, it’s your mental health your mind is telling your body not to move. Um and this just got progressively worse over the time and the nurses just kept saying get up and walk and I pleaded with them that I could not walk.

SP       Shelly that is just awful and a scary situation for you, Sally is there anything that Shelly can do about that.

SG      I was going to ask, Shelly did you end up finding out exactly what was prescribed to you?

C1       Um yes, I did and it had nothing to do with what this was, it ended up it was Guillain–Barré. 

SG      So whatever they prescribed did in fact cause the symptoms she suffered from? 

C1       No it didn’t. So it was nothing to do with that, it was just the fact that they kept saying it was my mental health but really it was physically, I mean I couldn’t go to the toilet, they were taunting me saying, I said I need to see my baby, I need to see my baby, they said well if you can’t get up into that wheelchair how will you see your baby. 

SG      So you were misdiagnosed. 

C1       Yeah they kept saying it was a functional disorder, apparently that can happen that you can be so stressed out that your  mind can tell your body not to move. Anyway the nurses treated me very very badly because they were given advice from the doctor that this was a mental thing anyway it did get into my lungs and I was airlifted to intensive care and on life support for 3 weeks. 

SG      I’m sorry to hear that, the condition Gillan Barrae which I know of, is very serious and it has be treated quite quickly and the unfortunate side effect of going into a mental health unit of a hospital is that you are often labelled and that is the problem, so I’m glad and I’m assuming you are a lot better now and I’m glad you are better and thank you for sharing your experience. 

SP       Thank you Shelly. Let’s go to Laylee now, Laylee good afternoon to you. 

C2       Hello how are you going? 

SP       Tell me about your experience. 

C2       Mine involved being turned away from a hospital, well a public hospital once and then a private hospital once and the first one was they said it was muscular skeletal and the second one said it was analgesia but I was in extreme pain and I can handle pain but I was really really sick and in the end the second time I was back at home and I just said to my son you have to take me back to hospital, I just can’t focus and I don’t remember anything after that except three weeks later when I woke up from a coma I had sepsis and nearly died. The kids were told, it was just one night and say your goodbyes and stuff like that and I survived it all but had I not got my son to take me back again I would have died. 

SG      Yeah I mean, so often I hear cases involving exactly what you’ve described Laylee when someone’s symptoms are undermined, undervalued and not treated seriously and they are suffering from an underlying very serious condition. You are very very fortunate to be around today but more often than not I have acted for family members not so long ago in fact in circumstances where exactly what you described eventuated and that family member passed away and all that person needed was a course of antibiotics intravenously and they would have been right as rain so thank you for sharing again and these sorts of things have to be taken into account. 

SP       Is there anything Laylee and people such as Laylee can do in that situation?

SG      Definitely yes, theoretically they can um but as a lawyer I’ve got to do the right thing, I wouldn’t want to waste your time in circumstances where you are a lot better now and your suffering was for a period in the past and now you’ve overcome that, it’s probably not commercially viable for you to do anything about it unless you say to me, permanently it has affected me psychiatrically or I’ve still got some physiological side effects that worry me every day, that is a totally different scenario. 

SP       Laylee thank you for that. I mean I was in the North shore Public emergency department and there were a lot of people in there, I mean they have to go through so many people and the waiting time for me was 2.5 hours and that is just par for the course when you go through into the public system and emergency departments around the world and around Australia in particular obviously are like that, you have to wait a long time but you often wonder if you are going to get the right care at the end of that and I did and the staff there were awesome um but are you getting the right diagnoses when they are having to see so many people, triage them, figure out who is a priority and end up seeing the person who needs help and then they have to wait even beyond triage and then figuring out whether the person is qualified or experienced enough or has the professional skills to deal with that situation for example what the previous caller described, Guillain–Barré syndrome, that’s not a condition that a registrar can detect perhaps so it depends on various factors and hopefully you get the right care. More often than not obviously you do, I’m talking about the rare case here, the exceptions to the rule.

SP       Just a quick note, a footnote to my experience there at North Shore Public, the staff wanted me to say if I ever got the opportunity, more staff and more resources. So North Shore Public I have done my duty. Let’s go to Michael on the open line, Michael good afternoon to you.

C3       How are you going Steve? 

SP       What happened to you? 

C3       Um I had massive chest pain, broke into a cold sweat, getting tingles down my arm so I rang an ambulance, so it sounds like a classic heart attack doesn’t it, I rang the ambulance and they did an ECG in the ambulance and they said that my heart was ok, I went to the emergency room at Bankstown Hospital and they just observed me for a couple of hours and then they decided to run another ECG and it showed I was having a heart attack but they couldn’t do the procedure there so they took me to Liverpool hospital where they found out that the LAD which is the main artery that ? muscle, was totally blocked and I’ve got permanent heart damage from it. 

SG      Can I ask Michael how long the delay was between the time you went to the first hospital to the time you ended up having the surgery?

C3       It has to be attended in 90 minutes and it was 5 hours.

SG      Ok and now you are suffering from breathlessness, fatigue, how are you going on a day to day basis?

C3       Well I have heart failure. They measure your heart function by your ejection fraction and a normal injection fraction is 55% to 75% and I am 38%. 

SG      Yes so all medical health professional have to do is what is reasonable that’s what the law dictates and they have go to do what is reasonable and appropriate and if they have got to deliver competent care and treatment. I don’t know the facts of your case, I haven’t looked at the records but hearing what you’ve had to say, obviously you want fast urgent treatment when you are suffering from the symptoms of a heart attack but the feelings that you have now, the side effects of what you have had are to a degree the side effects of having had heart failure with a main artery that was totally block and possibly to a degree the failure to act on it more quickly but it is very hard to distinguish in circumstances where overall the delay wasn’t significant.

SG      Well the Professor said to me the guy that actually put the stent in, he said had you have rung the ambulance closer to Liverpool hospital where he works at, you would have been fine. He said we would have acted on it immediately. So he is virtually saying they were negligent.

SP       So what can he do then?

SG      Very happy to investigate and discuss with you and help you Michael, no problem at all.

SP       Michael thank you for that and Michael has picked up the $100 Westfield voucher courtesy of Turner Freeman, you’ll be able to devote something towards your legal fees.

SG      I hope not.

SP       You can get something nice from Westfield, what’s wrong with that, you’re not turning it away, um it’s great to talk to you Sally, thank you so much and look there is a lot of people out there who have been through a situation like this who need advice who think that they have been in some way poorly dealt with and it maybe more than that, they may be able to take some course of action so it is a place for you to start.  Turner Freeman Lawyers if you are ever in that situation. Always good to talk to you Sally. Thank you.

SP       Thanks, bye.