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Meet the UK’s Catastrophic Injury Team of the Year

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Chris Stewart - head of the serious injury department at Digby Brown

As winner of the Catastrophic Injury Team of the Year at the most recent Personal Injury Awards, law firm Digby Brown writes for NR Times to highlight its track record in serious injury work and commitment to supporting brain and spinal cord injury survivors

To many the name may not be familiar.

The firm, after all, operates exclusively in Scotland. But their serious injury department, which specialises in helping brain and spinal cord injury, defeated competition from all over the UK to earn the top accolade in the Personal Injury Awards 2020.

It therefore merits that NR Times asks the question ‘Who is Digby Brown?’ so accident survivors and healthcare professionals can learn more about the firm which finds itself under the spotlight.

As a firm, Digby Brown has supported those affected by the most high profile cases in Scotland.

The Clutha helicopter tragedy. The Glasgow bin lorry disaster. The M9 police call handling scandal. The Stonehaven rail disaster. Abuse cases against religious groups and football clubs like Celtic. Even landmark settlements for asbestos disease claims.

And as a team, the firm’s serious injury department shares the firm’s reputation for being an expert advisor to survivors of ABI or spinal cord accidents.

Among the cases of note is the settlement of a claim for a man who suffered a serious head injury after being run over by the son of ex-Rangers footballer Ally McCoist.

They also act for the victims of a fatal road crash that claimed the life of one teenager and left two others with serious injuries.  This case was prolific in legal sector as it sparked a Scottish debate on the sentencing of drivers convicted of death by dangerous driving.

The firm, and indeed the serious injury department’s, reputation that has been hard-earned and forged with tenacity, compassion, consistent results and integrity which is why Digby Brown has strong ties among charities, support groups and health sectors.

Digby Brown is committed to not just recovering compensation – it has a compassionate hands-on approach to ensuring each survivor has a tailored all-round support package to meet their unique and individual needs.

Spinal Injuries Scotland and Back Up often refer spinal cord injury survivors to Digby Brown for legal support with spinal cord injuries while brain injury survivor network Headway highlights Digby Brown as a go-to firm for legal help after a traumatic brain injury.

Having close bonds with SIS and Back Up means Digby Brown also a great reputation among NHS staff at the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Unit in Glasgow – a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to treating and rehabilitating survivors of spinal cord injury.

The firms also repeatedly tops legal rankings year on year for personal injury work. In Chambers & Partners the firm has been ranked Band 1 for the last 15 years. The head of the serious injury department Chris Stewart is also ranked as a leading individual. While in The Legal 500 the firm has been ranked Tier 1 for the last 14 years.

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has around 50 accredited specialists in the Scotland for personal injury work – and around half of these work at Digby Brown. Then there’s Moira Kay, a Partner in the Serious Injury department, who is the only APIL-accredited specialist for both brain injury and spinal cord injury in the whole of Scotland.

Then there’s the settlements themselves – £223million in the last 10 years.

“So they have the reputation, results and talent – but what does Digby Brown do differently?”

Under the leadership of Partner Chris Stewart, the Serious Injury team makes sure each new client has access to:

Immediate medical care (even if it needs to be obtained privately)

Counselling or CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) – the firm does everything it can to help a new client tap into a positive mindset to enhance the effectiveness and speed of their recovery.

Interim payments – if a brain or serious injury survivor can no longer work then Chris and his team will seek an immediate lump sum to help with urgent issues like mortgage payments

A case management worker – to take a hands-on approach to helping assess and solve your immediate, short term and long term care needs while also putting things in motion to help you create a home, personal and (if possible) work life for the future.

Welfare rights – Digby Brown has in-house staff who help accident survivors navigate the benefits process pro bono (completely free) simply as part of their service.

Charity support – the firm’s recognition from charities means they can help survivors access peer support groups for guidance and hands-on help.

And when all this is happening, the team is not merely a voice on the other end of the phone.

Chris’ team will welcome you to one of their seven offices across Scotland (whichever is nearest to you) or they are just as happy to visit you at home or even your hospital if you’re still engaged with rehab work.

Outside of the legal support the serious injury team at Digby Brown has a proven track record in educating and enhancing the support available to ABI and spinal cord survivors.

Each year is hosts the Head Injury Information Day (HiiD) in Glasgow and Edinburgh where brain injury survivors or healthcare professionals come together to share knowledge and access support. The last event saw 30 exhibitors and 300 people attend – a popularity that will now see similar events planned for Inverness, Dumfries and Aberdeen.

They also host an annual summer barbecue at Castle Semple near Glasgow where wheelchair users can experience hand cycling, sailing or kayaking.

Or the famous Winter Dinner Dance – an annual black tie gala that is the highlight of the year on the Scottish legal social calendar to raise money for wheelchair users and the charities that support them.

Then there’s the road awareness events it hosts alongside road safety stakeholders for 16-year-old school pupils before they don their L plates as well as numerous sponsorship programmes it offers for wheelchair sports like the Caledonian Crushers or Dundee Dragons.

All these things is why Digby Brown won the Catastrophic Injury Team of the Year award last year.

As the Personal Injury Award 2020 judges noted: “Catastrophic injury cases can be incredibly complex and demand a high level of collaboration and team work in order to see them to a successful outcome.

“This dedication is also reflected in [Digby Brown’s] impressive community work where again it goes the extra mile.”

Chris Stewart, head of the serious injury department, explained what he thinks is the secret to the department’s success in Scotland.

“I am in the fortunate position of leading a team of high skilled and experienced solicitors who are unwavering in their focus of achieving the best possible results for clients,” he says.

“As a specialist team we can concentrate all of our energy and knowledge on the most seriously injured and guide them through what is a complex legal process.”

He also outlined a few key differences between the legal systems in Scotland and England and what this means for accident survivors – but also what he hopes will improve or be achieved in the future.

Chris adds: “The long awaited introduction of Periodical Payments in Scotland will mean, for the first time, the most seriously injured will have a legal right to have their damages paid annually for the remainder of their life, rather than being forced to accept a discounted, one-off, lump sum which they are expected to invest in volatile markets.”

MND

£1m dedicated to MND research through 7 in 7 Challenge

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A £1million fund has been created to lead new research into potential treatments for Motor Neurone Disease (MND) through the efforts of an iconic challenge by Kevin Sinfeld. 

Kevin, director of rugby at Leeds Rhinos, raised over £2million through his 7 in 7 Challenge, inspired by his former team-mate and close friend Rob Burrow. 

Rhinos legend Rob was diagnosed with MND in December 2019, and Kevin completed seven marathons in as many days to help boost badly-needed research into the condition. 

Now, with £500,000 of the money raised through the 7 in 7 Challenge ring fenced for research, that sum has been matched by medical research charity LifeArc. 

The move has created a £1million joint fund established by the MND Association and LifeArc, which will support research projects focused on developing new therapies or repurposing drugs already approved for use for other conditions.

“This is fantastic news and an amazing contribution from LifeArc,” says Kevin. 

“When we set out to complete the 7 in 7 Challenge we hoped to raise awareness and funds to support the MND community but it is so wonderful to see the inspiration it has given people and organisations, like LifeArc, so they too can support the need for more research.

“Our hope, like that of everyone affected by this brutal disease including Rob, is that this money will make a real difference and help find the breakthrough we all desperately want.”

Researchers are now able to apply for a share of the funding, with the criteria that they will be expected to conclude their project within three years and be target driving with set milestones and a credible delivery plan – including a clear route to reach MND patients.

Dr Brian Dickie, director of research development at the MND Association says: “We are so grateful to LifeArc for this generous contribution and are looking forward to working with them to identify projects which have a real chance of making a difference to our community in the coming years.”

Melanie Lee, LifeArc’s chief executive, emphasised that the focus of the new funding is on boosting research around potential treatment options based on the latest understanding of the disease.

“The ambition around stimulating the search for new treatments fits with LifeArc’s approach over the last 25 years to translate early science into health care treatments or diagnostics that can transform patients’ lives,” she says. 

“Our partnership with the MND Association is the latest in a series of strategic partnerships that maximise LifeArc’s expertise in translating strong discoveries from the lab into benefitting patients with conditions with few or no effective treatment options.”

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What causes a stroke?

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Ischemic and hemorrhagic are the two main types of stroke

Over 100,000 people in the UK suffer a stroke each year, with there currently being around 1.2 million survivors living in the country.

Many people note that despite how common strokes are they remain unaware of what the actual causes of a stroke are.

Depending on which of the two types develops, causes and outcomes can differ.

What both have in common is they restrict blood flow to the brain. This leads to a reduction in the brain’s oxygen levels, which can cause tissue damage.

Here, NR Times breaks down why a stroke may occur and what risk factors there are behind each different type.

What are the different types of stroke?

There are two main types of strokes: ischaemic and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic strokes make up nearly 90 percent of all cases and they materialise when an artery which provides blood and oxygen to the brain becomes blocked. 

A hemorrhagic stroke is much less common, but happens when an artery leading to the brain bursts and starts to leak blood around or in the brain.

Causes of an ischaemic stroke

The brain is only able to function properly when its arteries supply it with oxygen-rich blood, meaning any blockages can cause lasting damage.

With a lack of blood flow, the brain is unable to make enough energy to work. If this consists for more than a few minutes, brain cells will begin to die.

This is exactly what happens in an ischaemic stroke, but there are a range of reasons as to why these blockages develop.

One of the main causes is when the arteries around the head narrow, which makes it harder for the blood to pass through.

This can also lead to something called atherosclerosis, which is where substances in the blood (such as fat or cholesterol) stick to the sides of the arteries.

Blood can build up on these deposits, causing a further increase in pressure and a reduction to the brain’s oxygen supply.

There are a number of reasons for these blockages, with the most common ones being around a person’s lifestyle.

For example, smoking can increase the risk of a stroke by up to 50 percent.

This is because nicotine not only narrows the arteries, but it also makes the heart beat faster, causing an increase in blood pressure.

Excessive alcohol intake, obesity and high cholesterol levels are also all listed as major risk factors when it comes to ischaemic strokes.

Problems with the arteries around the heart can also lead to an ischaemic stroke.

Irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and other irregularities around this area can again limit the blood’s oxygen levels.

Causes of a hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhagic strokes are most common in people ages 45 to 70, but they affect a lot more younger people than an ischaemic stroke.

These are caused after the arteries around the brain burst and cause bleeding.

Depending on where the artery is can affect the outcome of the hemorrhagic stroke.

If the bleeding occurs within the brain, blood shooting out at high pressure can kill some cells.

Bleeding on the surface increases the pressure in the protective layer between the brain and the skull, potentially causing more cell loss.

This bleeding is normally caused by chronically high blood pressure. In many cases, the increased pressure can cause the arteries to expand and weaken, meaning a split in them is more likely to take place.

A rarer cause of hemorrhagic stroke is where the blood vessels around the brain are connected abnormally, causing further stress on the brain. These are congenital (present at birth) but the reason for their occurrence is currently unknown.

Again, the best way to reduce the risk of an hemorrhagic stroke is to make healthy lifestyle choices.

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NHS pilots video service for epilepsy diagnoses

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A new clinical video service which supports epilepsy diagnoses and management in the era of coronavirus and beyond has been launched in the UK.

vCreate Neuro allows registered patients and carers to share smartphone-recorded videos of potential seizures or unknown movements with their clinical team via a secure, NHS-trusted system.

The data and footage act as a visual aid to assist clinical teams with rapid precision diagnostics, creating a digitised clinical pathway that minimises the need for face-to-face clinic appointments and invasive tests.

The system is currently being piloted across Scotland and, following its initial success, across England including Great Ormond Street Hospital, Evelina London and Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

The system is available to families who are concerned that they, their child or loved one may be experiencing seizures or unexplained episodes including epilepsy.

Since May 2020, more than 2,000 families have shared over 5,000 videos with their clinical teams across the platform.

Dean MacLeod was referred to the service when her seven-year-old daughter, Olivia, began having unknown movements in May 2020.

Dean uploaded videos of Olivia during these episodes as Olivia’s seizures grew more frequent.

The videos were reviewed by Paediatric Neurology professionals at the Royal Hospital for Children, Glasgow, and, supported with telephone appointments, Olivia was diagnosed with a form of epilepsy and quickly started on treatment.

Speaking about her experience, Dean said: “I’ve found vCreate to be invaluable in Olivia’s journey since she started having seizures last summer.

“We live in a remote location on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, and we have a very limited paediatric service on the Island. The service has made it easy to access the specialist clinical knowledge needed by sending recordings of various seizure events to the Paediatric Neurology team at Glasgow.

“Since the diagnosis, I have kept in regular contact with the clinical team through the platform, sending videos and typically receiving advice from a Consultant within 24 hours which is fantastic. Between the vCreate service and telephone discussions, our family have not needed to have face-to-face consultations which has been hugely beneficial during the pandemic.”

Professor. Sameer Zuberi, consultant paediatric neurologist at the Royal Hospital for Children, Glasgow, said: “vCreate Neuro has transformed how we use carer-recorded video in our service. We are diagnosing epilepsy more rapidly, preventing misdiagnosis and saving unnecessary investigations. Families feel in more control and better connected to the service.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people experiencing seizures and seizure-like episodes, including children, have been unable to see a clinician.

Create Neuro aims to help by empowering patients to use asynchronous video technology for self-management, reducing the need for physical appointments. 

Founder Ben Moore said: “We’re passionate about family-forward care, and worked closely with clinical teams, patients and carers to develop the vCreate Neuro service.

“The system aims to improve patient care, reduce the number of clinic investigations – and resulting costs to the NHS – and digitise the patient pathway. We want families to be in control of their healthcare journey and have a direct link to their clinical team despite the pandemic restrictions.”

The vCreate platform has been independently assessed and approved by Information Governance teams in over 100 UK NHS Trusts.

 Within the platform, a clinical database is available as a learning resource for clinicians to study seizure types, events, and other symptoms.

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