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Innovators not victims
The parents who set a public-spirited example
Today, Times 2 reports on the case of Isabel Maude who, at the age of three, all but died after a misdiagnosis. Despite suffering the high fever and bluish discoloration symptomatic of the flesh-eating bacterium, necrotising fasciitis, she was told by doctors that these were merely the signs of the chickenpox that she also had at the time. Two days later, Isabel was rushed to the nearest hospital in a state of toxic shock. This time doctors got the diagnosis of her rare disease correct. But though Isabel — now a lively five-year-old — did not suffer permanent neurological damage, she will need six further operations over the next two years to rebuild her abdomen and groin where dead flesh had to be excised.

Her parents, Jason and Charlotte Maude, made her story public not, unusually, because they wanted to sue but because they intended to set up a national “safety-net” — a computer on to which doctors could tap in symptoms and access a database of possible diagnoses — which could save lives in future. They have so far been successful and the software is already on trial in four teaching hospitals.

Mr and Mrs Maude can only be admired for their unselfish attitude. Ridicule and disbelief may greet many of today’s outlandish compensation payouts. But still “compensation culture” encourages members of the public into considering themselves “victims” of the system rather than contributors to it. Medical mistakes (among numerous other types of accident) can prove a lucrative source of funds. And although the life or health of a relative are not quantifiable in cash terms, reactions of grief, fear or anger are often channelled into seeking such recompense. In the end however, it is the taxpaying public that foots the bill.

Payments cost the National Health Service some £2.8 billion a year which means that, as lawyers and a few individuals profit, many taxpayers may be denied the medical services they need owing to lack of funds. Surely then, limited finances are better reserved for treating the illnesses of the living than on paying out to the bereaved. It would, of course, be a contravention of the Human Rights Act to withdraw the right to sue for medical negligence. And in many cases — where carers will be permanently needed, for example — financial recompense is essential. But in deciding not to sue and instead to seek ways in which similar accidents might be prevented in future, Mr and Mrs Maude reveal themselves to be innovators rather than victims. In setting the public good above their own private interests, they set the finest form of example.

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