Today my article will focus on medical negligence following a number of recent high profile cases and inquests. Medical negligence is essentially an act or omission by a health care professional which is below the accepted standard of care and which results in injury or death to a patient.
Medical negligence can happen due to a number of reasons including:
- Diagnosis – misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
- Treatment – i.e. errors in the medical treatment such as incorrect medication, surgical errors, exposure to infection (MRSA etc)
- Disclosure – i.e. failure to inform the patient of the risks of the treatment of procedure
I will now give examples of medical negligence in the context of diagnosis and treatment by referring briefly to some cases.
Diagnosis – i.e. misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
In one case a patient died of a brain haemorrhage. He attended his GP several times before his death complaining of headaches. He was sent to casualty but was not admitted and the next day he was admitted again, unconscious, and died soon after. The High Court found that the GP was negligent because he did not take into account the man’s version of events and his detailed accounts of the seriousness of his symptoms. The Supreme Court also found in favour of the plaintiff, but on the grounds that where the casualty officer ignores and does not follow up on a referral letter, it is an “inherently defective” practice and is negligent.
Treatment – i.e. errors in the medical treatment such as incorrect medication, surgical errors, exposure to infection (MRSA etc)
In another case the Plaintiff’s husband had surgery to remove a tumour in his throat. On the second night after the surgery the tracheotomy tube was put out of place. By the time the airway passage was established the man was brain dead. The case was brought on the grounds that the surgeon allowed his patient to recover in ICU where there was no-one trained to replace a tracheotomy tube. The defendants disputed liability on principle of “general and approved practice”. The Court acknowledged that nurses in Ireland are not specially trained to change tubes of this type and that no negligence therefore arose on this point. However, he also noted that this was an emergency situation which required special training. The Court found that failure to have a person, nurse or doctor in the ICU who was trained in the replacement of a tracheotomy tube, under the circumstances, was an.
The surgeon was found guilty of negligence because the deceased would not have died if a trained person been present in ICU.
The majority of people who undergo x-rays and blood tests for cancer in Ireland are correctly diagnosed. Early detection is vital as it enables timely medical treatment, and in many cases the patient can be cured. There are unfortunately many cancer sufferers who are misdiagnosed as not having cancer. Our experience in dealing with these cases shows that there are several reasons why a cancer misdiagnosis can occur – most of them as a result of human error or a lack of skill. A doctor may not respond appropriately when a patient presents displaying symptoms of cancer- there may be a failure to thoroughly examine or a failure to recognize the symptoms and signs of cancer. There may be a failure to refer to a cancer specialist or a failure to appropriately monitor a patient who has a family history of cancer. In a great number of cases that have come before the Courts it has been shown that laboratory results and scans are often misinterpreted by technicians too frequently.