The High Court yesterday gave permission for judicial review to proceed in respect of a long running dispute between Irene Morris and both the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust regarding the loss of substantial medical records concerning Mrs Morris’ deceased daughter Alexis.
Alexis spent the last five years and seven months of her life in St Thomas’ Hospital before dying at the age of 29 in 2011. Following Alexis’s death, Mrs Morris requested her medical records from the Trust. Eventually some records were disclosed, but these were incomplete – the files that were missing included her oncology files and chemotherapy records despite the fact that Alexis had been admitted for bowel cancer. Mrs Morris complained to the Ombudsman regarding the Trust’s inadequate response and initially the Ombudsman refused to investigate because Mrs Morris had failed to state on the form that not only did she want the missing records, she also wanted to understand why they went missing (which matter was the subject of a previous unsuccessful judicial review).
Eventually the Trust undertook a further internal investigation in 2014, following which the Ombudsman did agree to investigate the matter. After three more years and four different sets of investigators, the Ombudsman eventually produced a report at the end of 2017. While the report rightly found that the Trust had been guilty of maladministration, it failed to address essential questions relating to what had happened prior to 2014, including as to identifying what records were missing, how so many records could possibly have gone missing in the first place and why the Trust had not done specific searches identified by Mrs Morris. In Mrs Morris’s view, such failures breached promises that had been made to her by the Ombudsman, prevented her from understanding how her daughter’s records could have been lost and prevented the Ombudsman from identifying the remedial steps that the Trust needs to take to prevent anything like this ever happening again.
Following the grant of permission (where the Court accepted that the claim is arguable), the case will now proceed to a substantive hearing in 2019.
Mrs Morris said:
I am very relieved that the Court has granted permission for this claim to proceed. I, and my daughter, am entitled to understand what has happened to her medical records. Simply finding that there has been maladministration is not enough. I want the Trust and the Ombudsman to recognise the seriousness of this type of maladministration, and for the Trust to publicly accept responsibility, to be accountable for that maladministration, to publicly apologise to the patients and their families who have been adversely affected and to make sure they change their processes to ensure this cannot happen again. While my daughter and I are strong supporters of the NHS, it remains essential that everything continues to be done to ensure that patient care and record-keeping are subject to continuous improvement, and this action is an important part of that process.
Jamie Potter, Partner in the Public Law and Human Rights team at Bindmans LLP, and solicitor for Mrs Morris said:
The Court’s decision today is a welcome one and will allow a full and proper airing of Mrs Morris’s concerns regarding the Ombudsman’s investigatory process. The Ombudsman forms an important part of the oversight regime for the NHS, but in fulfilling that role it is essential that he properly holds NHS bodies to account and keeps his promises to complainants. This judicial review will test whether he has done so in this case, but has important ramifications for other claimants, and the approach they can expect from the Ombudsman in the future.