Verdict of medical misadventure on brain-disease man: Decision paves the way for civil actions

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The Independent Online
A JURY took 16 minutes yesterday to decide that a former Royal Navy engineer, who had been given hormone treatment on the National Health Service as a boy, died through medical misadventure.

The verdict, widely hailed, has already led to the Government being urged to offer immediate compensation. Civil actions on behalf of up to 70 families, claiming negligence by the Department of Health, are now being prepared by solicitors.

The inquest jury in Lincoln heard that Patrick Baldwin, 29, of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, who died in December 1992, had lost control of his nervous system. His death highlighted growing concern about links between growth hormone treatment and the terminal condition Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which he suffered from and which destroys brain cells.

There have now been 48 deaths worldwide from CJD. When he was 14, Mr Baldwin received hormone treatment to help him grow. He was stunted as a child and the treatment successfully increased his height by 8.25in in three years.

The coroner, Nigel Chapman, said that the case was the forerunner of many more and that civil actions would now follow. He said that the jury's verdict meant in essence that Mr Baldwin had been given hormone treatment from contaminated pituitary glands.

The outcome for him, and others who had turned to the medical profession for help, had been tragic.

Mr Chapman added that it was not for him or his court to apportion blame, but he recognised that the implications of the case were far-reaching.

A Department of Health spokesman said last night that government lawyers would look carefully at the implications of the inquest verdict. But he would make no promises regarding compensation.

However, the verdict will strengthen the case for other families who have either lost relatives or who are now known to be suffering from CJD, for which there is no known cure.

Some 1,900 young people underwent growth hormone treatment some years ago, using extract taken from human pituitary glands at post-mortem examinations. This practice has now been stopped and all hormone treatment is done through synthetic products.

The civil cases now being prepared will not reach court before late next year. This week, the French government agreed to pay out up to pounds 220,000 to each of the 25 people who had lost relatives in similar circumstances.

After the hearing, David Body, solicitor for the Baldwin family, said a writ would be issued in the High Court next week claiming compensation against the Department of Health and the Medical Research Council. Neither appeared at the inquest. Mr Body also called for a full public inquiry into the affair.

Last night, Labour called on the Government to guarantee compensation for victims of CJD and urged the setting-up of screening and support services for those at risk. David Blunkett, its health spokesman, said: 'The Government must now take responsibility for this tragedy by guaranteeing compensation payments to those individuals and families affected.'

The call for compensation was backed by Tom Fry, spokesman for the Child Growth Foundation. He said that victims in France had been compensated without any inquiry or lawsuit taking place, an example Britain should follow.

He said the inquest verdict was a 'landmark in quite a long struggle'.