Gurney to the darkside: Ann Dowling of the Medical Detectives

BOTCHED surgical procedures, negligence, malpractice and families seeking answers about the deaths of loved ones – welcome to the world of Ireland's first Medical Detectives.

The Cork-based firm was established to help distressed patients navigate the opaque worlds of law and medicine and has already attracted 36 cases in its first three months.

On top of increasing queries from the legal community, Medical Detectives is anticipating more cases than it may be able to answer.

Some 8,000 people a year are estimated to die in hospitals as a result of adverse incidents. In the same timeframe, 160,000 patients are thought to suffer injury.

"Let's call a spade a spade – the public are being treated very badly in hospitals," said Ann Dowling, a qualified medical and psychiatric nurse and founder of the Medical Detectives.

"They are not given all the information and they have to go to extreme limits and cost in order to achieve anything or get answers. All they want is answers.

"There is a huge issue with clients not being able to get a diagnosis (for their concern) and being hocked from Billy to Joe. Doctors won't admit liability."

Dowling said the idea is not to offer people legal advice but to access and assess files, thereby steering them clear of hospital bureaucracy and premature legal expense.

If there is anything of concern, files are translated into simple English and presented to a legal team who can bring the case further.

When the team examines files, it seeks irregularities in care and procedures, as well as focusing on the calibration of equipment, accountability, traceability and best practice.

A conference earlier this year organised by Action Against Medical Accidents (AAMA) outlined exactly how often problems arise.

More than four million visits are made by people to Irish hospitals every year and, according to international research, approximately 4% of visitors are injured due to medical accidents.

The types of cases they deal with are varied and include people under anesthetic becoming injured while being "manhandled" by hospital staff and those with concerns over their treatment in maternity wards.

"People are coming to me about deceased family members where they have not got answers. That is huge. Usually we are contacted within three months of the death," said Dowling.

"There are queries now coming in on how people were treated in a psychiatric setting – some people who have recovered and are now questioning their treatment at the time."

Before its arrival, the Medical Detective team said that those seeking answers would commonly retain a solicitor who would send medical files to the UK for examination.

Costs, they say, are clearly reduced by the imposition of nursing consultancy charges in the place of legal fees.