Women’s medical negligence claims: is gender bias the cause?

Women’s medical negligence claims: is gender bias the cause?

When a recent review led by former health minister, Baroness Cumberlege, detailed how tens of thousands of women had suffered medical negligence at the hands of three avoidable health scandals, we wish the news came as a surprise.

As medical negligence solicitors, a large proportion of our clients are women, and gynaecological negligence claims are the largest contributor to all clinical negligence claims we receive here at Medical Solicitors. One of the main reasons behind this is because the female population still faces alarming levels of disparity in the medical care, treatment, and support they receive.

This isn’t out of malice or contempt, but unspoken sex and gender bias still exists in modern medicine and so, women are experiencing serious medical mistakes.

Women’s health concerns and crippling symptoms are being serially dismissed, ignored, downplayed, unrecognised, or misdiagnosed – cluelessly shrugged off as just ‘women’s problems.’ This generalised, insensitive and condescending attitude has the ability to shroud the consultation room in doubt and leave women with a sobering risk to their health.

A long history of gender bias and women’s medical negligence

The first duty of any health system is to do no harm to those in its care, yet women have been failed by the system for generations.

gynaecological negligence

Our healthcare system has been devised around men since the days of Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who deemed women to be ‘mutilated males’ and inferior to their masculine counterparts. In certain respects, modern practices are still gender-blind, with medical professionals trained primarily to identify and treat symptoms in men. This one-sex view of healthcare means there is a lack of research and knowledge surrounding female biology which continues to compromise the quality of care women receive.

Historically, medicine has always seen women first and foremost as reproductive bodies, the uterus the primary perpetrator of all women’s evils. The reproductive system is a complex piece of biology and needs highly specialised medical care. It is  health issues relating to the reproductive system– such as endometriosis, menstruation, childbirth or hysterectomies – in which most women’s medical negligence claims occur.

However, because historic medicine has always presumed organs and bodily functions operate the same in both sexes (which biologically is not true) women are often not taken seriously for other general health concerns, particularly if symptoms present differently. Chronic pain is more prevalent in women, often living with more severe, frequent or prolonged pain. Yet they have difficulty receiving appropriate medical care.

The Freudian hysteria narrative continues to fill knowledge gaps; we have a long history of dismissing women’s physical ailments as a by-product of a psychological affliction. Women are more likely to be given a psychosomatic diagnosis for physical conditions than men and are mislabelled as neurotic or depressed, their symptoms being all in their head.

Gynaecological scandals catalyst to NHS reform campaign

Up until the early 90s, women were excluded from clinical trials based on the belief that there was a risk to fertility. However, the Women’s Health Equality Act 1993 meant women could finally participate in medical studies and research was at last undertaken into female infertility, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

This was over a quarter of a century ago and further sweeping reforms are now needed to scrutinise the safety of drugs and medical devices. In Baroness Cumberledge’s review, it found that mesh implants, the pregnancy test drug Primodos, and the epilepsy drug sodium valproate have had detrimental effects on women’s health for over 60 years.

Women taking the drugs were not correctly informed of side effects and Primodos in particularly is suspected to have caused miscarriages, or brain damage, heart defects and shortened limbs in infants. Over 100,000 women have been given mesh implants to treat incontinence and have since had life-changing complications. This is due to NICE guidelines not being followed, including procedures not being undertaken by experienced surgeons.

But these three health scandals are certainly not the first and they may not be the last that women ultimately are subjected to

Wombs are perforated during simple procedures to insert the contraceptive coil. Infection and sepsis following surgery or delayed diagnosis can lead to the loss of or shrunken womb. Then there is the risk of uterine prolapse.

gynaecological negligence

Women put their lives on the line to have children, with obstetrics care and childbirth traumas failing hundreds of women and infants every year. Black women in particular are five times more likely to die during labour. Terminations and sterilisations are unsuccessfully performed resulting in unwanted pregnancies. Ectopic pregnancies are missed causing a serious threat to life.

Some women are facing over seven years wait to be diagnosed with endometriosis. Others have delays in fertility treatment. Even women with early signs of the menopause are being ignored and medication withheld.

If you are a woman who has experienced any form of gynaecological negligence over the last three years, don’t put on a brave face and hide the pain you are feeling – we are here to help.

Our director, Caroline Moore, has been a medical solicitor for 18 years and one of her sub-specialisms is gynaecological negligence. As a woman, you can rest assured she treats all of her gynaecological negligence clients in a sensitive and sympathetic way. She and her team have helped many women fight their corner and receive justice for the medical injuries they sustained.

Medical Solicitors Recent Case Studies:

DVT caused by wrongfully prescribed contraception leads to a large seven-figure payout

Oral contraceptives have long been associated with raising the risk of blood clots, but for one of our most recent clients, being prescribed this method of birth control at 16 led to her suffering life-changing conditions for which she was awarded £1million in compensation.

The woman, now 24, was wrongly prescribed the combined contraceptive pill despite a family history of vascular disease. Eight months later she suffered a large DVT in her left leg for which she underwent invasive clot-removal surgery and vein stenting.

She was left with chronic leg pain and swelling (post thrombotic syndrome), suffered from PTSD, is registered disabled and has been unable to work.

This client had had her case rejected by various solicitors due to limitation issues. Because she was a minor at the time of injury, the three-year time limit started when she turned 18, meaning she had until her 21st birthday to make a claim. She approached us a week after her 21st birthday. However, we felt that this young woman had a strong case and needed our help to receive justice for her permanent injuries.

One of the main issues was that the nurse refuted claims our client’s family history had been divulged at a consultation that both our client and her own mother had attended.

Court proceedings had to be issued and the case settled six months before a trial on liability. The £1,000,000 compensation accounted for past and future loss of earnings and expenses such as childcare costs as well as pain, injury and suffering. On top of this figure, the Defendants’ insurers repaid benefits to the DWP that our client had received as a result of her injury.

Mid Yorkshire Hospital Trust admits failure to spot burst appendix in pregnant woman which led to the loss of her unborn child

During pregnancy, all women should receive the highest standard of medical care to protect the wellbeing of her and her unborn child. However, a recent client of ours experienced various failures during her second trimester which resulted in the loss of her child, for which she was awarded £92,500.

In December 2015, the woman was 16 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to hospital with abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting and placed on IV fluids. But medical staff assumed this was just a symptom of pregnancy and she was discharged. Her pain continued at home and she was readmitted two days later with severe sickness (hyperemesis) and dehydration.

An ultrasound showed fluid collecting on her left-side but an MRI scan couldn’t determine the cause. Four days later a laparoscopy examination found a ruptured appendix. Fluid was drained but her condition deteriorated. Three weeks after she first sought medical treatment, she lost her baby. A CT scan also showed more fluid which had now become infected. She was taken to theatre where she underwent a caesarean section and appendix removal surgery sequentially.

She remained in an induced coma on a ventilator for a week and was treated for sepsis twice, before finally being discharged in January 2016, a month after her surgery.

With our help, the woman successfully brought a claim against the Mid Yorkshire Hospital Trust who acknowledged various failures. They admitted the burst appendix should have been considered sooner and this would have led to earlier diagnosis and treatment, avoided prolonged discomfort and sepsis, and prevented the loss of her unborn child.

Woman not informed of risks of hysterectomy awarded £125,000 damages seven years after suffering bowel complications

This year we also won the case of a woman who suffered bowel perforation during a hysterectomy and for which she was awarded £125,000 in compensation.

Choosing to forego fertility by having their uterus removed is not an easy decision for a woman to make. However, for our client, she should have had alternative treatment (endometrial ablation) which would have prevented long-term bowel problems that resulted from her hysterectomy.

During her preoperative laparoscopy five months before the hysterectomy, the examination failed to identify severe scar tissue in the pelvis. Our client has long suffered with the inflammatory bowel condition, ulcerative colitis. Yet she was not told she would have an increased risk of bowel perforation during the procedure, neither was she advised to have womb ablation which breaks down the womb lining without the need for invasive surgery.

Due to the perforation of the bowel, she underwent a Hartmann’s operation which led to her needing a stoma fitting. This was reversed seven months later but led to bowel incontinence, an incisional hernia and stoma site pain and scarring. She is also at future risk of developing further hernias and bowel obstruction.

The complications that arose from surgery led our client to have a substantial absence from work, resulting in her taking voluntary redundancy in 2017. Her mental health was also seriously affected. She began to self-harm and was diagnosed as having chronic adjustment disorder which needed treatment.

She approached Medical Solicitors 16 months after the limitation period had expired, however, we recognised her case had good merit and so agreed to take it on. Liability and causation had been denied by the defendant, Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust. They argued our client’s chronic bowel condition had caused the continence issues and that her scar tissue had worsened in the five months between laparoscopy and hysterectomy; the latter was dismissed by gynaecological experts who also agreed the extent of the adhesions should have been identified during the preoperative assessment.

These failures, amounting to medical negligence, led to our client suffering bowel injury during her hysterectomy and she had to later have stoma reversal surgery. She also suffered from acute depression which meant she only consulted out firm one year after the usual 3-year time limit for bringing a claim. A settlement of £125,000 was agreed in May 2020, seven years after the injury.

Accessing a Specialist Solicitor

Medical Solicitors’ director, Caroline Moore, is a qualified solicitor of over 30 years, 18 of those specialising in gynaecological negligence claims. She and her team are there to support you through the civil matters of the medical complaints process.

For more information on our gynaecological negligence claims process, visit: www.medical-solicitors.com/medical-claims/gynaecology-womens-problems

If you need support or guidance relating to medical negligence claims, then please get in touch on 0114 2507100 or email info@medical-solicitors.com

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