Legal squabble over fatal illness payout leaves Gorleston family unable to afford burial

The family of a young mother who died when doctors failed to diagnose her fatal illness say they cannot afford to bury her ashes because the NHS and out-of-hours provider are squabbling over who should pay for her interment.

Clare Secker, from Gorleston, fell ill during Christmas 2008 with flu-like symptoms.

Her worried family called out-of-hours GP company Take Care Now, but a nurse told her mother Janice, over the phone, to give her paracetamol rather than involving a GP.

The 19-year-old died on December 29, 2008, leaving an 11 month-old son, Tyler, who is now four and started school this week.

It was subsequently found her death was caused by broncho-pneumonia, which a GP could have cured with a simple course of antibiotics. Clare's family claim they were never offered the services of a GP.

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Clare was cremated, but her ashes remain in the living room at the family's Somerville Avenue home. The family cannot afford to have them buried and those they hold responsible for Clare's death are squabbling over who should pay.

Clare's father Michael, 56, said channelling their energy into looking after Tyler had kept them going and added: 'It has been nearly four years and it makes it harder because you have to keep talking about it because all this is going on. If we could finalise things then the family and Tyler would have somewhere to visit and lay flowers.'

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The nurse who gave the original advice has admitted responsibility through her lawyers. But they will only accept responsibility to compensate the family if Harmoni, which took over Take Care Now, will reimburse her for any damages.

Harmoni refuses to do so and claims its insurance specifically excludes responsibility for negligence by nurses.

The Great Yarmouth and Waveney primary care trust (PCT), which handed out the out-of-hours contract, claims it requires the company to hold insurance and it is the company's responsibility. The case has now reached an impasse, whereas often an interim payment would be made at this point to help families carry out a burial.

The Secker's lawyer is Sandra Patton, a medical negligence specialist with AshtonKCJ, who says the increasing use of private providers in the NHS could mean more families are left in the same situation.

She said: 'The bickering between the three parties and their failure to face up to their responsibilities has meant the ashes of this poor young woman they allowed to die still rest in the family's living room, denied a decent burial.'

She added: 'We have asked for an interim payment so at least Clare can be decently buried, but we can't get anything sensible from any of them. They all insist 'it's nuffin to do wiv us, guv'.'

A spokeswoman for the PCT said: 'We have every sympathy with the family involved in this case.

'Although the PCT funds the health care received by its local population, in the rare and unfortunate event that things go wrong, it is the provider of that care that will be responsible for paying any damages in the event that liability to do so is established.'

A spokesperson for Harmoni said: 'As this matter is subject to ongoing litigation, it is not possible for Harmoni to pass comment.'

For more on this story, and why other patients could be left in the same situation, see Friday's EDP.

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