An Irish cervical cancer campaigner who lost her life because of medical negligence is due to be remembered at a special lecture in the Netherlands next month.
Adrienne Cullen (aged 58) was present for the first lecture in her name at the Universal Medical Centre (UMC), Utrecht, on April 13, 2018.
In her own words, she was “weak, anaemic and barely able to walk.” But she found her inner reserve of steel and made her voice heard clearly and distinctly. She channelled "Spitting Mad Adrienne" and left "Patient Adrienne" behind in order to force changes in the system.
Adrienne said that there was “audible amazement” in the auditorium when she said that no inquiry had been carried out into what had gone wrong in her case. She told the audience that she was probably going to die without knowing precisely what happened.
Adrienne publicly criticised the hospital for the manner in which it had handled her case and for their attempts to silence her by demanding a non-disclosure agreement or ‘gagging clause” as part of her legal settlement.
The journalist, author and editor had successfully sued her hospital, UMC Utrecht, for medical negligence after it “lost” test results in 2011 that showed she had cervical cancer – only to “find” them again two years later in 2013, by which time her cancer was terminal.
Prior to her death on December 31, 2018, Adrienne chose the speaker for the second annual Cullen lecture in Utrecht. It is to be delivered by the CEO of a NHS Trust in the UK all of whose five sites are rated “good” or “outstanding”.
Andrew Foster CBE, CEO of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust in the UK, is regarded as one of the most successful and innovative managers in NHS history.
WWL NHS Trust has five separate sites and more than 4,500 staff with its core at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary. Remarkably, especially in the current financial climate, all five are rated by the Care Quality Commission as "Good" or "Outstanding".
Apart from his successful management style, Foster’s "quality champions" scheme has demonstrated that substantial measurable improvements in patient safety can be achieved at minimal cost – and has been implemented in many other hospitals.
The idea is that employees at every level are allowed to agree and introduce simple changes they believe are necessary in their own units. It empowers staff and changes the ethos from one of "we'll have to ask upstairs".
Foster – who is due to retire in October – has had a long list of senior management roles over the years, including Director of Policy at the NHS Federation and NHS Director of Human Resources at the UK's Department of Health.
Mr Foster said he was “honoured” to be able to deliver the lecture – which takes place on Friday, May 10, at UMC Utrecht. He stated that he feels privileged that Ms Cullen had “trusted his vision” enough to choose him.
Meanwhile, in an interview just weeks before she died, Adrienne said that she empathised greatly with the women impacted by the cervical check scandal in Ireland.
She said: "They have been robbed of being able to see their children's birthdays. They have been robbed of Christmas photos, of having family holidays. Of seeing their children grow up. We have all lost so many things like that. Peter (her husband) beside me here is losing me.
"The big difference between (Vicky Phelan and Emma Mhic Mathúna ) and me is that I don't have children. The horror of being a parent is the idea that you have to leave your children behind you and not know what is going to happen to them.
"Or what education they will get? Or what guidance into the future? Money doesn't compensate them for losing their parents.”
UMCU admitted liability in the Cullen case but Adrienne received compensation of just €545,000.
However, this was a huge sum by Dutch standards and represented the biggest payout for medical negligence in the history of the State.
She spoke of her belief that gagging clauses continue to perpetuate a culture of silence which allows medical negligence cases to continue unchecked.
"What I have achieved in Utrecht isn't nothing, but it is only the first step on a very long journey. It has to be Europe-wide.
"There has to be an absolute ban in the EU on using confidentiality clauses which are gagging clauses in contracts between patients and their hospitals because they do not belong there. That would be a very good first step."