A 29 year old Mother was devastated to know that the attending surgeon at a hospital in Milton Keynes, UK had operated on the wrong ureter while trying to treat kidney stones. According to reports, the patient had left kidney stones which required surgical intervention. However, instead of placing a stent in the left ureter, the doctor inserted it in the right ureter. Fortunately, this was discovered and corrected before the effects of anaesthesia wore off. Nevertheless, she had her hospital stay extended by 2 weeks and claimed she has given up her job as a result of the wrong treatment, which informed her intention to sue the hospital.
How did this medical error occur?
According to the medical director, Dr Ian Reckless in a statement to The Citizen:
Ms Hodgson underwent a procedure to insert a small tube called a stent in her ureter -which is the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder – as a treatment for kidney stones. As the surgery was completed, and while Ms Hodgson was still under anaesthetic, the operating team realised that the stent had been inserted into the wrong ureter. The stent was removed and another stent inserted into the correct ureter. “This is classified in the NHS as a wrong site surgery and as such was reported by the hospital as a ‘Never Event’. Although the error was corrected at the time of surgery, this has clearly been a very distressing ordeal for Ms Hodgson, who spent more time in surgery and had a longer than expected hospital stay.
“I would like to offer my sincere apologies to Ms Hodgson for this.” he added.
The woman feels the apologies are coming too late and has sued the hospital in the hope of getting compensation. She feels that the wrong procedure had damaged her kidneys and may affect her quality of life in the long term.
How common are serious medical errors?
Serious errors like these should never happen. Nevertheless, medical errors occur even in developed countries where significant advances in health care have been made.
Do you know that in the United States, medical errors account for 250,000 deaths yearly?
Consider a few examples of serious errors that have occurred in the UK and United States in the past few years:
- Prescription errors
- Removal of a man’s testicles instead of cysts
- Amputation of the wrong leg
- Transplanting incompatible organs
- Removing the Fallopian tube of a woman instead of her appendix
- Operating on the wrong eye
- Removal of wrong tooth or teeth
- Leaving items such as scissors, scalpel, sutures, gauze in patients
Why do medical errors occur?
It is easy to conclude that such errors are because of bad or incompetent doctors and other health workers. However, this may not be true. According to the authors of a review of medical errors in the US, “most errors represent systemic problems, including poorly coordinated care, fragmented insurance networks, the absence or under use of safety nets, and other protocols, in addition to unwarranted variation in physician practice patterns that lack accountability.”
Medical errors are likely to occur in hospitals with over-worked or underpaid staff, limited training opportunities, and organizational challenges.
This case reminds us of the importance of maintaining safeguards in health institutions to reduce human and clerical errors that can have a huge impact on the lives of patients and their family members. .
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