Health and Wellness

Deaths in hospital: when relatives in search of explanations turn to justice

“I don’t care about conciliation, an amicable settlement. Let them keep their money. And yet, God knows I need it!” At the end of the line, Jean-Didier Bonard has difficulty containing his anger. After the death of his wife, the one who had become “his caregiver” filed a complaint against the Pierre-Oudot hospital in Bourgoin-Jallieu (Isère) for failure to assist a person in danger. While she went to the establishment’s emergency room on January 4 for a foot infection, which she feared was linked to her heart failure, Cathy Bonard died twelve days later, in a hospital center in the Lyon region where she had to be transferred, after a coma and several cardiac arrests.

Over the past two years, like Jean-Didier Bonard, many relatives of patients who died after a trip to the emergency room have taken legal action. This month of April 2024 marks six months of a case that has become emblematic : that of Lucas, 25 years old, died at Hyères hospital (Var) after waiting several hours on a stretcher in a corridor. His mother, Corinne Godefroy, wanted to take the matter to court. In the Vosges, a dozen have filed a complaint after losing a loved one at the Remiremont hospital center, whose management itself admitted “a failure” in October. In Eaubonne (Val-d’Oise), three families have announced that they are filing a complaint against the hospital (which says it is only aware of two procedures, one of which has since been closed).

These cases received significant media coverage, giving the impression of a resurgent phenomenon. “Everything ready to believe that these tragic situations are on the rise,” A group of six deputies supported by around fifty organizations and unions in the health sector was moved in February, asking for the creation of a commission of inquiry on this subject.

Health authorities do not keep an official count of these unexpected deaths after a trip to the emergency room. The High Authority for Health (HAS), on the other hand, lists, in a broader manner, “serious adverse events associated with care” (EIGS), i.e. unexpected complications “with regard to the state of health and pathology of the patient and the consequences of which are death, life-threatening prognosis or the probable occurrence of a permanent functional deficit”. Between 2021 and 2022, their number increased by 27%going from 1 874 SAEs declared at 2 385, without knowing how many of these “adverse events” correspond to people who died due to not having been treated quickly in the emergency room. According to the HAS, this increase does not reflect an increase in incidents, but a better response from professionals, in a context where these events are still largely under-reported.

On the side of the MACSF, the main insurer for doctors in the event of a disputethere is a drop in 5% of complaints (4 075) in 2022 compared to 2021 (4 289). “On average, between 5 and 7% of complaints will turn into complaints with a prosecutor or an administrative court, which represents 0.1% of users who go to the emergency room”calculates Jérome Goeminne, director of the Grand Hôpital de l’Est Ile-de-France and president of the Union of Public Health Managers. “When a complaint is filed, we receive the users with the people concerned and we draw conclusions to improve our practices”he assures.

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