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Superbug test case to be heard
Superbug test case gets under way
2008-01-15 07:00:35 UTC
2008-01-15 19:31:11 UTC
(about 13 hours later)
A test case involving a woman who is suing a hospital after she contracted MRSA will be heard at the court of session in Edinburgh later. A grandmother from North Lanarkshire has launched a landmark test case in a bid to win damages from a hospital where she contracted the MRSA superbug.
The case is the first of its kind in the UK, and if successful could allow many more people to sue the NHS for infecting them with the superbug. Elizabeth Miller, 71, from Kilsyth, was found to have the bug MRSA in 2001 when she was recovering from a heart operation at Glasgow's Royal Infirmary.
Elizabeth Miller, 71, contracted MRSA seven years ago while having a heart operation at Glasgow's Royal Infirmary. Her legal team believes that the hospital failed to properly implement a hand hygiene policy.
Her lawyers argue ineffective hygiene standards led to her infection. The case could lead to scores of other claims if it succeeds.
The preliminary hearing in Edinburgh will decide if the case can go ahead. The test case, being brought against Greater Glasgow NHS Board at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK.
Patients have previously sued hospitals for failing to treat MRSA but because it is hard to prove how the bug was contracted, there have been no cases brought against the NHS for giving patients the bug in the first place. Wound infection
However in Mrs Miller's case, swabs taken suggested she was not carrying the MRSA prior to the operation. She was one of several patients who contracted MRSA on that ward. Judge Lady Clark will have to decide if there is a case in law for Mrs Miller to proceed with a full compensation claim.
The preliminary hearing, which got under way on Tuesday, has been scheduled to last six days.
Mrs Miller's solicitor, Cameron Fyfe, said he had 160 other clients who intended to pursue similar claims if Mrs Miller's case was successful.
Some claims where patients had died or lost limbs could run into six figures, Mr Fyfe suggested.
Mrs Miller - who was not in court - wants to sue the NHS board for Â£30,000, claiming her life has been turned upside down since she contracted the bug.
She was admitted to Glasgow Royal Infirmary, one of the country's biggest hospitals, on 18 October 2001 for an aortic valve replacement operation the following day.
Nine days later, she was diagnosed with a suspected wound infection and she was placed on antibiotics.
I have 160 other clients who intend to proceed with their own claims if Elizabeth is successful Cameron FyfeSolicitor
The infection was later identified as being MRSA.
Papers lodged with the court by Mrs Miller's lawyers - the pursuers in this civil action - claim that she was infected after the operation.
They said: "If the hospital's hand hygiene policy had been implemented, enforced and adhered to, the pursuer would not have become infected with MRSA."
The lawyers said that the number of cases of MRSA in the UK have increased "significantly" over the past 10 years.
"The risks associated with the presence of MRSA at the hospital were known to the defenders (the NHS board) at the time of the pursuer's operation," they state in the court papers.
Patients have previously sued hospitals for failing to treat the superbug, but there have been no cases brought against the health service for giving patients MRSA.
However, Mrs Miller's legal team argues that a nasal swab taken from her suggested she was not carrying the bug before the operation.
Lawyers for the NHS board are calling for the legal action to be dismissed.
They claim that the infection was identified and treated as early as possible and insist the swab taken from Mrs Miller does not show that she did not have MRSA before being admitted.
Speaking outside court, Mr Fyfe said he hoped his client would succeed.
He said: "I have 160 other clients who intend to proceed with their own claims if Elizabeth is successful.
"It's a difficult case, but we're hopeful that we'll win in the end."