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Doctors often work under extreme pressure, but the standard of care which they are expected to give their patients is unwavering. In one case, a man who suffered heart failure and a stroke four years after attending a hospital accident and emergency department won £250,000 in compensation from the NHS.
The man, then aged in his 50s, was suffering crushing chest pain when he went to the hospital. He said that it felt like someone was sitting on his chest and that he was convinced he was going to die. He was examined by a triage nurse but was not seen by a doctor. Instead, he was given an appointment with a GP at a nearby same-day treatment centre, who diagnosed a stomach problem.
Four years later, he returned to the same accident and emergency department where acute cardiac failure was diagnosed. He suffered a devastating stroke, causing lasting disabilities. Lawyers launched proceedings on his behalf against the NHS trust which managed the hospital.
In upholding his claim, the High Court found that he should have been seen by a doctor when he first attended hospital. He had a family history of cardiac problems, had difficulty controlling his cholesterol levels and was an ex-smoker. Had a proper history been taken from him at the time, he would have been recognised as being at risk and admitted to the hospital for further tests. Had that happened, his condition would have been diagnosed and treated and his subsequent stroke would probably have been avoided.
The Court acknowledged that medical staff in accident and emergency departments have difficult jobs to perform and often have to make quick judgment calls. However, the man's symptoms had been consistent with acute cardiac syndrome and the failure to admit him was negligent. The man's damages were agreed at £250,000.