Patient left unattended immediately after surgery

Patient left unattended immediately after surgery

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Our client had already gone through a series of major operations. In 1996, aged 59, she had a left and right knee arthroscopy.

Medical Negligence Case Background

This is a type of keyhole surgery commonly used to treat joint problems in the knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows and wrist especially in older people.

That was followed by a total left knee replacement operation in 2003 with the same procedure carried out on her right knee five years later when she was 68.

As is common in these procedures, additional revision surgery is often required. In 2009 she underwent just such a first stage procedure on her left knee and a year later aged 73 she admitted herself to the George Elliot Hospital in Nuneaton for elective second stage revision surgery on the same joint.

The operation appeared to go well and the consultant orthopaedic surgeon advised her that, post-operatively after a brief period of recuperation, she should be able to fully bear her weight with the aid of crutches initially and just walking sticks eventually.

She was returned to the ward to recover. It wasn't until mid-morning the day after her operation that our client was found lying on the floor beside her bed in a great deal of pain and distress. It turns out that, having asked the nursing staff to help her go to the toilet, they had simply placed a bed pan on a chair, sat her down on it and left her unsupervised and unattended. She had felt dizzy and had fallen off the chair.

X-rays showed her knee replacement appeared to be in place and unaffected, but she had fractured her femur and her wrist in the fall. She was started on a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) regime that meant she could administer her own pain relief as she felt she needed it and was scheduled to undergo an ORIF (open reduction internal fixation) procedure which is utilised to treat severe fractures.

The surgery to treat the fractures was carried out after two days. Two months later she was discharged home. Further visits to the George Elliott hospital and the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital were required. She finally had the most recent of her major operations to replace part of the femur with an artificial insert. This was a major operation and carried a risk of amputation.

Access Legal case comments

Sarah Corser, now an associate with Access Legal's medical negligence team, comments:

"As a consequence of her initial fall from the chair, our client had suffered years of pain and avoidable, risky, surgeries. Had that not been the case, at least 80% of her normal function should have been restored within six months of the initial procedure, as the consultant orthopaedic surgeon originally suggested."

What did Access Legal do?

We reviewed the facts of her case and told our client it was clear that the hospital had failed in their duty of care towards her by leaving her alone, completely unsupervised, sitting on chair (not even a commode) just a day after her operation. It ought to have been obvious to attending medical staff that she would have been unsteady on her feet so soon after surgery and would therefore be at risk if left alone. It was because of that initial negligence that she had to suffer all that she endured for the next several months.

We obtained medical records and reports from an eminent professor of orthopaedic surgery and represented our client on a no-win-no-fee basis. Labiality in this case clearly could not be disputed. The NHS Litigation Authority conceded that the use of the bedpan was inappropriate and did cause our client's injuries, which necessitated all the further surgeries and pain she experienced. They made an initial offer of £50,000, which we promptly rejected.

We provided a schedule of the financial losses our client suffered, further medical evidence and a prognosis from the orthopaedic expert, an assessment of the care she would now require from specialist providers and a report from an accommodation expert concerning how she would require single storey accommodation as a result of her physical disability.

After considerable negotiation, Sarah was successful gaining our client compensation of £500,000 which was finally agreed and paid in October 2013, three years after we had first taken the case on board.

"The award covered general damages for the avoidable pain and suffering our client had endured as well as helping to fund her ongoing care, which is now more intensive than would otherwise have been required. In addition, it has helped to fund things like aids and equipment, additional care and suitable accommodation as well as other support that will allow her to enjoy a degree of mobility and independence that would otherwise be denied to her."

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