The end may be in sight to the more than three decades long wait for compensation from Government to former Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) nurse Coral Wilkinson, who suffered a back injury while on the job in April 1981.
However, Wilkinson, who suggested that her debilitating condition was turning her into a vegetable, said she was not holding her breath as expectations of payment for the surgery needed to ease her pain were like an elusive dream.
Wilkinson was walking up the stairs in the antenatal clinic in April 1981 when she fell and damaged her neck. She suffered a slipped disc which still presses against the nerves and the bone in her lower back which supports her upper body weight. She sued the State the following year in order to get compensation so she could take care of her medical needs.
Thirty-five years and at least five lawyers later, she is still waiting for her present lawyer Sir Richard Cheltenham, QC, and Solicitor General Jennifer Edwards, QC, to reach a settlement.
The Solicitor General, who has the authority to release the money, has been inaccessible in recent times, according to the former nurse.
“She doesn’t return my calls. Whenever I call I can’t get to talk to her . . . she is always unavailable. I am not getting any answers,” Wilkinson told Barbados TODAY in an interview yesterday.
And, she complained, it was not any easier getting through to her own lawyer, either.
“Every time it is the same thing; it is the same thing worded differently. Sometimes I can’t get to speak to him either,” bemoaned the St Thomas resident, who said her physical health had deteriorated so badly that headaches had become a normal part of her existence.
Wilkinson has been trying to collect from the Office of the Solicitor General some $400,000 which she and her lawyer estimated was required for surgery in the United Kingdom to bring back some form of normality to her life.
“I called the [lawyer’s] office this morning again and I heard he was at court and his secretary couldn’t talk to me. I just called back and asked if I could speak to either of them . . . I said yuh know, I would like to know exactly where it’s at; if it is a problem with the money for the hospital or if it is settlement are two different things or one in all. I would love to get something done, cause right now the pain is excruciating to get out of bed,” lamented Wilkinson.
When contacted by Barbados TODAY for an update on the matter, Sir Richard said the process was ongoing.
“We made a request from them [Solicitor General’s Office] for funding for her to go . . . to England to have the . . . surgery there to see if they can help. So we have been asked to put together a costing . . . what is it going to cost: accommodation, transportation, the cost of the surgery, travel; I think we had said it in the past, but they asked us for some additional [information].
“So it is likely that we are still in the process of getting all the costing from in London, the surgery and the cost of one or two hospitals and so on, but that was not the end of it. So we were putting together now the final costing required from all the sources. So that is where we are with that,” he said.
Asked how soon he expected to have all the costing in hand, he replied: “We are working fast on it to get the information from abroad. Some people were prompt in responding, and some took a little while. We sent in stuff but they asked for more, so maybe in a fortnight we should be able to tell you the latest on that.”
While the back-and-forth continued between the Solicitor General’s Chambers, Wilkinson and her lawyer, the matter of payment remained a contentious issue.
Principal Crown Counsel Roger Barker, who is handling the case on behalf of the Solicitor General, wrote Wilkinson on February 24, 2015 offering her $145,159.70 so she could have the cervical surgery done in Britain. But Sir Richard replied in correspondence dated March 12, 2015 rejecting that sum and proposing $400,000 instead. He argued that “to offer the meagre sum [of $145,159.70] in full satisfaction of her case, is virtually to condemn her to remaining in her presently helpless condition”.
In rejecting the offer, Sir Richard advised that the Solicitor General’s offer did not even cover the cost of the medical team in England, whose maximum fee is £33,000, neither did it include the expenses of going to England, which comprised such things as air travel, food, accommodation, internal travel and per diem allowance.