Heart scandal cash rejected

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The Independent Online
PARENTS OF children who died in the Bristol heart operations scandal have angrily rejected compensation offers of up to pounds 20,000. Some families dismissed as "insulting" the offers from lawyers from the NHS Litigation Authority.

Their view is shared by the Bristol Heart Children's Action Group, which branded the authority's handling of the cases "cruel". Group secretary Steve Parker claimed yesterday the authority was imposing arbitrary deadlines on the parents, which had the effect of pressuring them to accept the offers in advance of the public inquiry into the scandal, which opens on October 27.

"They are being put in a horrible position," he said. "The parents do not know what the inquiry will require in terms of getting at the truth. But if they accept the compensation offers, that would end their litigation."

The offers are part of a series of legal battles in negligence claims over children operated on at the Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1984 and 1995. Several children died, and others were injured or brain-injured. Heart surgeon James Wisheart and John Roylance, the former chief executive of the United Bristol NHS Healthcare Trust, were struck off after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Scores of parents are involved in compensation claims against the trust. These are being handled by the Litigation Authority on behalf of the Department of Health. Twenty-nine claims have been made so far by bereaved parents. "Ten of the 27 offers have been accepted, all on legal advice," said a spokesman."

Solicitor Laurence Vick, a medical negligence expert with Exeter-based Tozers who is handling nearly 70 cases relating to the scandal, has issued 40 writs for bereaved parents and is processing 20 cases of injured or brain-injured children. Total claims could amount to many millions of pounds. Mr Vick said many parents were offended by the cash offers.