Over the last several years, clinical (formerly medical) negligence in the U.K. has been rapidly rising in both the quantity of cases and the costs incurred. Since 2008, the number of clinical and medical negligence claims registered has nearly doubled. This surge in poor care and patient suffering is inexcusable: while medical technology and knowledge improves, there is no such clear improvement in patient outcomes.
A number of recent clinical negligence cases can help to shed light on this phenomenon. These cases range from incomplete appendix removal to the staggering example of a 10-year-old girl who led an almost normal life until an easily preventable syringe mix-up in surgery led to calamitous brain damage and left her in a wheelchair with little remaining cognitive function.
Simon, a 37-year-old man who suffered from severe abdominal pain, sought treatment for what should have been a relatively routine case of appendicitis. When doctors realised that an inflamed appendix was the most likely source of his pain, they removed it in an appendectomy at least, that was the plan. However, a year later he suffered a recurrence of the same debilitating symptoms.
He was given pain meds and told to come back later if he was still unwell. After all, Simon”s appendix had been taken out, so he couldn’t possibly have appendicitis again. Unfortunately, due to malfeasance in Simon’s earlier surgery, part of the infected appendix had been left in his abdomen; it was this that caused his later symptoms. At hospital he was diagnosed with stump appendicitis which required a second surgery. This in turn caused additional scarring and required him to take more time off work. When he pursued a clinical negligence case, he received £6,750 in compensation.
Surgical errors account for a large portion of clinical negligence cases in the U.K. Another example of this can be seen in the treatment of Ellie, a woman who had bad treatment after her left ovary was removed. The surgeon closed Ellie’s skin with Steristrips and clips that were supposed to be removed no sooner than eight days after surgery. However, when a letter about follow-up care was sent to her GP, it said that the clips should be removed 5-6 days post operatively.
Ellie’s nurse removed the clips as directed in the letter but before the wound had healed properly. After three days, the mishealed wound burst open it subsequently caused pain for several weeks, leaving Ellie needing help at home, and healed with a very large scar. The hospital was willing to admit their negligence and awarded £7,500 in compensation. In addition to faulty surgeries, misdiagnosis of injuries causes a significant amount of added pain and complication in medical treatment.
One such example was suffered by Ryan, a teenage footballer who later required surgery due to a lack of diligence on the part of A&E staff. When pain in his wrist after playing football persisted into the night, he went to A&E to check if any bones were broken. A nurse practitioner ordered X-Rays, none of which showed a break; however, the hospital neglected to X-Ray the scaphoid bone, which is the largest bone in the wrist and did indeed have a fracture.
This wasn’t diagnosed for a year and a half despite ongoing pain and loss of function; when the fracture was finally discovered, it required a bone graft surgery because it had gone untreated for so long. Ryan was later paid £17,500 for the negligence involved. Another case of misdiagnosis left baby Lily [name changed for privacy purposes] with cerebral palsy in both arms and legs; now a teenager, she is confined to a wheelchair, cannot speak, and suffers severe learning disabilities. Lily was born premature (delivered at 26 weeks) and monitored in the NICU for a few weeks before going home with her family as a healthy baby. When she got what seemed like a severe cold two weeks later, her mother was very concerned and spoke to hospital staff repeatedly over the course of a few days.
She was instructed to treat her daughter with over-the-counter remedies like cold medicine and colic drops; it wasn’t until Lily stopped breathing that doctors realised she had had a severe infection and should have been taken to hospital much earlier. The hospital refused to admit to negligence, but Lily”s family was able to secure a £4.8 million settlement to ensure she receives the lifelong care she now requires. In what is one of the most tragic cases of clinical negligence in history a mostly healthy 10-year-old girl with Arterio-Venous Malformations (AVMs) that sometimes cause internal bleeding was left crippled and cognitively deficient after a simple surgery mix-up that could have been prevented with a few minutes foresight. Maisha’s AVMs require occasional embolizations: procedures wherein bleeding blood vessels are glued shut.
As part of these procedures, doctors inject safe dye into her arteries to check blood flow to the brain and head. However, during one such operation hospital staff accidentally injected the glue into her brain instead of the dye; unlike the harmless dye, the glue is highly toxic to the brain and caused major damage, including physical problems like debilitating leg spasms. Maisha now requires twenty-four-hour care and supervision, lives in a wheelchair, and suffers from massive brain damage. Her case resulted in a record-breaking £24 million settlement.