It is natural to feel a degree of anxiety before undergoing surgery, especially if you are to going to receive a local or general anaesthetic. Happily the vast majority of operations are entirely uneventful and very few go wrong. Even if the outcome is poor, it does not follow automatically that someone was at fault. Nevertheless, very occasionally avoidable mistakes do happen in terms of anaesthetic arrangements. If you or a member of your family are harmed as a result of mistakes on the part of the anaesthetist or other doctors involved in an operation, it is understandable that you will want answers to pressing questions.

Richard Blair, Partner and Clinical Negligence practitioner with WBW Solicitors in Paignton, outlines some of the mistakes very occasionally made by anaesthetists and explains what the patient might chose to do about it.

Types of anaesthetic

There are three types of anaesthesia.

  • General anaesthesia where the patient is rendered unconscious throughout the operation with an initial injection and then given intravenous gas and additional drugs
  • Local anaesthesia which numbs a specific part of your body using an injection whilst the patient remains conscious; and
  • Regional anaesthesia which involves a local anaesthetic being injected around major nerves with the intention of blocking pain to another part of the body.

Anaesthetic mistakes

Delivering anaesthesia to a patient is clearly necessary but it is a complex process and from time to time mistakes are made. Anaesthetists are highly trained to ensure that the patient remains safe throughout surgery and afterwards. Nevertheless, errors can occur before, during or after the anaesthesia process. These include: –

  • Failing to check a patient’s medical records or to assess whether he or she has an allergy to a particular anaesthetic;
  • Administering the wrong type or dose of anaesthetic;
  • Administering the correct anaesthetic but at wrong place in the body.
  • Failing to monitor or respond to signs of patient distress while they are under the influence of the anaesthetic; or
  • Failing to follow correct procedures once surgery has finished.

All of these can have serious consequences. The patient may suffer damage to vital organs, damage to nerve structures, stroke, paralysis, brain damage or in extreme cases, death.

How a solicitor can help

All medical professionals owe their patients a duty of care. If this duty is breached as a result of a negligent mistake before, during or following a surgical procedure and if the patient suffers avoidable injury, he or she may be entitled to claim compensation.

If you think that may have happened to you, you should consult a specialist clinical negligence solicitor as soon as possible after the relevant treatment. That will enable the solicitor to take instructions whilst events are still fresh in the minds of all those involved and evidence is easier to obtain.

Your lawyer will assess your case and gather the evidence needed so that it can be decided whether there is a viable case with a good chance of success. Medical reports will be obtained and witness statements prepared to build the strongest possible case. Medical experts will prepare reports explaining what injuries the patient sustained, how they were caused and how they have affected the patient’s life.

The amount of compensation the Claimant is entitled to receive will depend on the extent of the injuries caused by negligence and what the long-term medical picture is likely to be. An award of damages should reflect: –

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Loss of earnings if it arises;
  • The cost of additional medical treatment or rehabilitation;
  • Out-of-pocket expenses;

Very occasionally, patients who are very seriously injured need to obtain alterative housing adapted to their needs, or to adapt an existing home and/or a specifically adapted vehicle. The cost of obtaining these may be recoverable as damages depending upon the circumstances of the case.

For further information, please contact Richard Blair, Member of the Law Society’s Clinical Negligence Panel on 01803 546134 or email richardblair@wbw.co.uk. WBW Solicitors has offices in Newton Abbot, Paignton, Torquay, Bovey Tracey, Exeter, Launceston, Exmouth, Sidmouth and Honiton.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.