Jessica Watson gives an insight into her role at Thompsons Solicitors.
What is your role at Thompsons?
"I am an Assistant Executive Lawyer based at our Bristol office, however I represent clients from all over the country. I joined the firm in response to a substantial increase in the number of mesh cases specifically in relation to pelvic surgeon Mr Anthony Dixon. I also work on a range of other mesh cases. My role involves speaking to existing and new clients and letting them know if their case is one we can assist with. We will always run a case if we can but it can be really tough when the law around limitation stops you helping someone, as is the case with some mesh claims. Thankfully with Dixon claims, we have negotiated the dates from when a claim can be made, although this is not indefinite and we would encourage anyone who thinks they might have been affected to seek independent legal advice as soon as possible.
"I run any cases I am involved in assessing from start to finish. This involves a lot of work in order to put together a strong case for my clients. You need to understand the area of medicine as well as the law and know how to best use both to act in the best interests of your client. Some of the steps I must take in each case are obtaining and reviewing my client’s medical records, identifying the most appropriate medical experts to assist with the claim, drafting witness statements, particularising allegations and approaching the other side to see if they will admit liability in the claim. I am also currently working on securing an agreement with the various defendants so that the claims can be dealt with as quickly as possible with the minimum amount of upset for my clients whilst also making sure that they can get the maximum compensation."
How did you get into medical negligence law?
"I always wanted to be a lawyer from when I was little but I first became interested in medical negligence law when I read about the Bristol heart scandal. 35 babies died and dozens were left brain damaged following cardiac surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. I remember thinking about those poor babies and their families and wanting to help get justice for them.
"I also developed a particular interest in the medico-legal area while studying for my law degree at The University of the West England (UWE). I earnt a first class result in Medicine and the Law and was lucky enough to assist the University’s Head of Medical Law on a medical law research project."
What type of claims do you handle?
"The majority of my cases are in relation to patients who are suffering following mesh surgery carried out by Mr Anthony Dixon. Mr Dixon operated on people from across the country in private hospitals and NHS Southmead Hospital in Bristol. I also deal with all different types of mesh cases including gynaecological, hernia, colorectal and urological claims. I represent clients who have had TVT or TOT, rectopexy, sacrocolpopexy, colporrhaphy and other similar operations."
What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?
"It’s rewarding to be able to act for people whose lives have been devastated by something that is out of their control so they can get some kind of justice. Reassuring people who have been made to feel like their pain and suffering is all in their heads and being that person who finally listens to them is so professionally rewarding. Often clients will mention a procedure that they have had done to them that due to their understandable lack of medical knowledge and the limited information given to them by Mr Dixon they do not understand. I can give them answers if they do not know what something means and provide an understanding of the process involved in their cases. Standing up for and helping people who do not have the means to fight their claims themselves makes going to work every day completely worthwhile."
What makes Thompsons the right law firm to turn to for medical negligence victims?
"Thompsons is completely client-led. I have worked for firms in the past that are led by insurance companies and it’s an entirely different environment.
"Particularly with the cases I’m dealing with, we are out there representing clients whose lives have been massively affected. We can offer them a level of expertise that no other firm in Bristol has. During the Mr Dixon scandal, we have been actively working with some of the leaders within the pelvic floor community, so that we continually learn more about the medicine behind these cases and make sure our legal claims are based on the latest appropriate medical standards. Ultimately, we want to offer mesh victims as much support as we can."
What is your involvement in the Anthony Dixon cases and how many people are you currently acting for?
"I am currently dealing with in excess of 70 Mr Dixon cases, which are a mixture of private and NHS claims. The majority of the cases are complicated as there are so many people involved and some patients have been treated several times.
"Each case is different. Some clients have had one operation with Mr Dixon at an NHS hospital and some have had one operation with Mr Dixon at a private hospital. However, several cases involve Mr Dixon performing two or more operations and some are at different hospitals. For example, two different operations but one has been carried out at a NHS hospital and the other at a private hospital. We even have some where there have been as many as five operations with Mr Dixon some at different hospitals, some privately funded and some NHS funded. Nearly all cases also involve patients having follow-up surgery as a result of what Mr Dixon did to them. Therefore most clients have had treatment and more than one operation at different hospitals, which can make it difficult to trace all of their medical records. The majority of my clients have recently been recalled by either the NHS or Private hospital at which they were treated and so this adds a further level of complexity."
How are you supporting patients who were operated on by Mr Dixon?
"I want to ensure that Mr Dixon’s patients are fully supported while I deal with their cases. I make sure I take the time to interview each client personally so I can understand what has happened to them. All of my clients have access to me when I’m in the office, whether that is by phone, email or letter.
"So far, I have been working with experts who are going to be sympathetic to these cases and don’t have a conflict with Mr Dixon. I am also doing a lot of work in the background for example obtaining information about my clients’ future treatment, the aim all the time being to make my clients cases stronger and make sure we win it for them."
What outcome are you hoping for following our Patients Before Profits: Let’s Help Sling the Mesh campaign?
“The Mr Dixon cases show, as with the Ian Paterson scandal, that some private healthcare providers and doctors have been allowed to profit from the suffering of their patients, which must stop. I’ve heard from clients that Mr Dixon said that the ‘treatment they needed’ wasn’t available on the NHS and actually sent them to a private hospital so he could do the operations himself and he will have been paid for doing so. He was also treating patients who did not need mesh surgery and in some cases he did not tell them what he was going to do. It was not until his patients received a bill from their insurance company that they found out what the operation had involved. In some cases, when I review their medical records I tell clients for the first time what their notes say Mr Dixon has done to them, far too often they had no idea.
"We want to be able to secure compensation for patients who are experiencing life-changing health complications as a result of mesh surgery. While Mr Dixon has already been suspended from work, which is an important step in protecting future patients, we want to make sure his ex-patients can make a medical negligence claim and get the compensation they deserve to help get them back in the best position we possibly can and that they would have been if it were not for the treatment received from Mr Dixon. The compensation will cover their losses and suffering and will also help get them any extra treatment, physiotherapy or care they may require in the future to lead a normal life."
Concerned about negligent medical treatment or diagnoses? Talk to us for advice and support today.
Our discrete and compassionate medical negligence solicitors are experienced in the full range of medical injury claims and will work with you to establish whether you have a medical negligence compensation claim.
If you, or a loved one, think you have suffered medical negligence, such as a birth injury (for example, a cerebral palsy diagnosis following a difficult birth), misdiagnosis (such as cancer misdiagnosis), or suffered negligence during an operation contact us for advice.
If the incident happened more than three years ago, you will usually not be able to make a claim for compensation. However, exceptions do apply – such as instances where you could not have reasonably known your symptoms were caused by clinical negligence, or cases involves adults who lack legal capacity or children – so contact us for advice.
For further information, visit our How to Make A Compensation Claim page.