Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Column, December 6, 2005

HOW will suing Alder Hey get justice for Luke?
Luke’s life was cruelly short, the hand life dealt him meant he was never out of hospital and that’s where he died after just 10 months.
When Luke’s mother Ruth was battling in the courts for her son’s right to life, I wrote in support of her fight.
I thought it was wrong for doctors, who had developed the means to keep gravely ill children alive, to wash their hands of the decision not to use those skills.
By asking the courts what to do they were essentially passing the buck, making it the courts responsibility, not their own.
But now I’m afraid I don’t see any purpose in suing Alder Hey for what happened.
Ruth Winston-Jones says it is not about money, and I’m sure that is the case. No mother would ever argue that mere money could compensate for the loss of a child.
And anyway, the figures handed out by the courts for the loss of children – unlike those for, say, the loss of a wage-earning parent – are always so shockingly small as to be insulting to the memory of those who have been lost.
But I’m afraid that even though the family insist that it is justice for Luke, not money, that this is about, money is what it will become about.
Because to sue a hospital requires lawyers, and they need money. And once a hospital is sued it will need lawyers to defend itself, and they will need money too.
In the end you will have two sets of lawyers making money hand over fist from a case between two sides who want absolutely nothing to do with money.
And what if Mrs Winston-Jones wins, what then? Where will a compensation award come from? Presumably from health authority coffers or at least from their insurers.
Then what will happen? Their insurance premiums go up and there will be less money to spend on what they should be spending it on – children’s care.
Is that a fitting memorial for Luke?
This is not an argument that hospitals should never be sued, but I certainly don’t think they should be sued as often as they are.
All too frequently a hospital is hauled before the court because a grieving relative believes that to do so is the only way they will achieve some recognition for the errors that were made in their loved one’s treatment.
Money is the last thing on their mind, but, if they win, they succeed in taking money off the hospital. And of the errors in care were caused by underfunding then money is the last thing they can afford.
I know it’s not possible to make hospitals immune from prosecution, but if parents aren’t interested in money and yet the only way they have of seeking redress is to ask a court for money, surely it’s not beyond the wit of man to come up with a better way of acknowledging fault.
If all a family want is a public statement of responsibility and an apology, isn’t there a way of them getting that without employing horrendously expensive lawyers?
And the fact is that, if all a family wants is an apology, very often that is exactly what they don’t get, as out of court settlements usually bring civil actions to an end with no admission of responsibility.
But is this really a case of negligence? At his inquest Ruth said life-saving equipment was removed from his room moments before his death.
But, given the fact that the court had said the doctors had the right to refuse aggressive treatment of Luke if his condition worsened, does that amount to negligence?
The inquest decided not, Merseyside Police never brought any charges. I can understand a parent’s pain and desire to have someone answer for what happened, but is that someone the doctors, nurses and management of Alder Hey?
Is anyone responsible for the death of Luke other than whatever genetic fluke caused his condition – fate, chance, or God.
But then it’s easier to blame a hospital than to blame God I suppose.

SOMEONE out there shares my almost obsessive dislike of pantos, particularly those whose cast-list is made up of former soap stars and reality TV cast-offs.
Someone calling himself ‘Pantodame’ left me this message: “Anyone wanting an entertaining time on a cold, miserable Manchester evening must try the Palace Theatre's festive offering – 'Peter Pan' – featuring that excellent 'Eastenders' japester Steve McFadden paired with another comic giant, ex-Eastenders actress Sophie Lawrence!
“My wife and I are about to get our house repossessed but we won't mind putting ourselves further in debt for the potential hilarity that this union promises.”
My advice to you pantodame, and I’ll put it in charming Eastenders patois is to “Leeeve it, it’s not worf it.”

NICE work if you can get it – being a Gwynedd councillor that is.
Especially now that you can rely on the council tax payers of the county to pitch in with £30,000 to a special pension fund being set up for departing councilors.
It’s been defended by those who claim it will attract younger people into local politics.
I’m not entirely sure I want someone coming into local politics, which after all, should be about public service, on the basis if how well they can feather their nest.
After all they get very healthy allowances, plenty of foreign junkets and now they can expect a pension for the privilege as well.
And it does leave you with a bit of a dilemma at the ballot box too – if you can’t stand your councilor you might want to vote against him, but now by doing so you’re just putting a pension in his pocket.

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