May 1, 2012

Husband wins a complicated legal battle after wife dies of a wrongly prescribed drug

Mrs K was prescribed the drug, Idarubicin, to treat myeloma earlier that year. There was an error in the dosage in prescription sheet, but sadly the pharmacist failed to pick it up when screening the prescription and gave Mrs K an excess dose. Mrs K ended up at Bristol Royal Infirmary and was diagnosed with a virtually complete absence of white blood cells. She passed away shortly after that of a simple bacterial infection, which her body could not fight after the drug had wiped out her immunity.

The family, who had already been concerned about the drug overdose, were informed that the overdose was in fact unrelated and that Mrs K had died of cancer. Moreover, a junior doctor on certifying the death did not make a referral to the Coroner and signed a cremation form, which the family had never requested. This is when the K family instructed Kerstin Scheel, Associate in our Clinical Negligence team, and started a battle in trying to bring the matter before the Coroner and for a full investigation to be undertaken.

The police questioned the doctor who prescribed the drug and investigated the pharmacy, questioning a number of pharmacists on potential charges of gross negligence manslaughter. Unfortunately the prescription sheet itself went missing and the medication bottles did not detail who had screened the prescription, only those who had dispensed it. No pharmacist came forward and took responsibility for having screened the drug.

The police decided there were insufficient grounds on which to refer the mater to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and it proceeded to the Inquest. The Jury members, who heard evidence from all involved, eventually found a verdict of manslaughter by gross neglect, i.e. unlawful killing.

Mrs K’s husband was awarded compensation in the sum of over £50,000.

Kerstin comments: “This case demonstrates that a simple error by a doctor can have catastrophic consequences for a family. The additional factor in this case was the failure of the system in place at the pharmacy which was supposed to be there to safeguard both Doctors and patients from prescription errors. Had the pharmacist performed his role properly then the error would have been picked up and corrected before any harm was caused.”

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