A nurse who suffered a ‘broken heart’ when a catalogue of hospital blunders caused her pregnant sister’s death has been denied compensation for her suffering.
Julie Shorter, 52, of Pangdene Close, Burgess Hill, had witnessed the deaths of dozens of patients and their families’ grief as a senior sister in a neurological care unit.
But none of that prepared her for the ‘sledgehammer’ blow of witnessing her sister Lucia Sharma’s death from a brain haemorrhage, aged 39.
Top judge, Mrs Justice Swift, said Lucia’s death followed a ‘catalogue’ of failings at East Surrey Hospital, Redhill, in May 2009.
Lucia, who was pregnant with her third child was sent home after suffering a brain haemorrhage, after a CT scan at the hospital was ‘reported to be normal’.
She was later rushed back to East Surrey Hospital and transferred to the specialist neurosurgical unit at St George’s Hospital, in south London, where she died the following day.
The traged was recognised as ‘a serious untoward incident’ and triggered a major NHS inquiry, the judge added.
Mrs Shorter was at her sister’s bedside before she died.
She said Lucia was like a daughter to her and she was ‘shocked, heartbroken and devastated’ by her death.
However, while expressing ‘deepest sympathy’ for her, the judge rejected Mrs Shorter’s bid for a £250,000 payout and said she could not be viewed as a ‘secondary victim’ of negligence’.
Mrs Shorter, who works for the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, said she suffered a psychiatric reaction to her sister’s death. Plunged into depression, she endures ‘flashbacks’ at work when treating patients in a similar situation, the judge said.
Mrs Shorter said: “Lucia was so young, fit and healthy. She had so much to live for. I felt that she had been failed at ever step of the way.
“The knowledge that she should have survived has been incredibly hard to bear.”
The judge praised Mrs Shorter for carrying on her work for the NHS.
“Her courage and resilience in continuing to do so, in circumstances where she is exposed to daily reminders of the events leading to the death of her sister, are worthy of considerable admiration,” she said.
But the judge ruled: “It does not appear to me that the sight of Lucia can be regarded as a ‘horrifying event’ sufficient to found a claim.”
But Mrs Justice Swift emphasised: “I make it clear that my decision in this case is in no way intended to minimise Mrs Shorter’s distress or the serious and longstanding effects of the defendant’s negligence.”
She said she had ‘serious concerns’ about the catalogue of medical failures leading to Mrs Sharma’s death, adding that she hoped lessons had been learned and the ‘deficiencies will not be repeated’.
Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust has already admitted liability in relation to the expectant mother’s death and has already paid compensation to her family.
However the trust argued it could not be held legally responsible for Mrs Shorter’s psychiatric injuries.