Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

Chris Thorne interviewed by Bristol Patient Safety

Chris Thorne, Partner in our clinical negligence team was interviewed by the Bristol Patient Safety following his recent attendance at their 2014 Conference.

Chris attended our first conference held on 16th May in Clifton, Bristol.  Chris, what made you think about coming to the conference?

I attend many medical conferences. It is very important for me and my colleagues to keep abreast of developments in medical treatment. Statistically an unfortunate outcome can be due to the complexity of treatment and we need to have enough information to be able to manage potential clients’ expectations. Their injury or harm could be an accepted complication and we don’t want to take on cases that have no merit. Attending this conference on the subject of patient safety allowed me to see what steps are being taken to reduce risk and prevent harm while someone is receiving treatment.  We need to understand the issues that hospitals are trying to deal with and what they can do. I have heard Professor Tim Draycott on a number of occasions and was very interested to hear him talk on PROMPT, the practical obstetric multi-professional training programme. We invite clinicians to our offices on a regular basis so our team can understand what a good level of care means. In this way it helps us assess claims that are presented to us. We never begin the process without taking the advice of a medical expert witness who is highly experienced in his or her field. It is the clinician who tells us what represents good care and what reasonable steps should be taken to prevent harm.  We want to see whether the care of our client met a standard expected by the medical profession itself.

What is your view of the obligation on healthcare givers represented by ‘Duty of Candour’?

I believe openness is very important. A lot of people come to us because they have not been listened to. Their concern has been brushed off or they have felt ignored within the situation they found themselves.  This failure in communication, by the clinician or the hospital leads to a growing upset, resentment or anger that can end up in a claim otherwise avoided by an explanation and acknowledgement of the patient’s concern. Gabriel Beeby, in his talk on Duty of Candour, made the point that with greater openness could come a reduction in claims and I believe this to be true. While a hospital may feel that an acceptance that preventable harm has occurred could damage its reputation, in fact, by being open, its reputation can be enhanced rather than damaged.  By making an early apology these very long drawn out processes where the case is conceded anyway, late in the day, could be avoided.

Did you find inspiration or information in other talks that will stay with you?

The talk by David Grant, Associate Dean for Simulation at Severn Deanery, I found to be very impressive. He made a compelling case for the importance of simulation training as a very effective way to increase patient safety. His work includes effective debriefing in simulation and human factors and team training. His talk made reference to the aircraft industry and how the understanding of human factors there has helped to inform the part human factors plays in preventable harm in the medical environment. It makes a lot of sense that risk to the patient is reduced when young doctors can learn in a simulated environment on mannequins before they have to deal with the same situation on the ward. One more point I would make more generally is that I believe it was important to have a legal viewpoint at the conference. The more communication between the medical and legal professions, the greater the understanding between the two groups.  The patient will be much better served by lawyers and those giving medical care having a greater understanding of each other’s roles. I would support any measures that facilitate an exchange of views and greater openness between the two.

This interview was first published on the Bristol Patient Safety Conference website