Enough to make you sick?

A dangerous bacterial infection broke loose in the Maasstad Hospital in Rotterdam last year. 128 patients were infected. The outcome of the investigation was published this week: “they neglected their duties” and “prescribed measures were only taken when the outbreak became public!”

The cooperation between the various teams at the hospital was extremely poor. The hospital will need to revise its systems to ensure that the alarm is sounded at an earlier stage in future and is clearly audible in all departments.

And what about the victims? In the case of long-term illness or death, patients or their surviving relatives can claim the costs of treatment and lost income. This includes compensation for intangible losses, which is always limited in the Netherlands.

The investigation report proves that errors were made by the hospital. But how do you prove that a longer illness or death was the result of the specific bacteria concerned? How high are the extra treatment costs and the lost income and were they really caused by this single factor? 28 people died here, of whom the investigating committee ascertained that 3 “very probably” died due to the bacteria. What about the other 25?

Legislation and case law assist victims and their lawyers. The doctors have to produce the full medical records if they refuse to accept liability. It may be possible to use this to prove whether the patient was infected and whether this affected his or her health. But if other conditions were also involved, which can be considered to be the cause?

Going to court doesn’t cure anyone. Despite this, when a patient suffers permanent injury or dies a conversation about the costs will need to take place at some point. Hospitals often have a lawyer in the background from an early stage and this can put the patient at a disadvantage from which it is difficult to recover. So it’s always advisable to consult a lawyer early on, even if money is not your main concern.