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Compensation paid to man who suffered cognitive impairment after anaesthetist’s medication error

A five-figure settlement has been secured after a man was given the wrong drug during a cardiac bypass procedure, leading to heavy bleeding and ongoing health problems.

Posted on 06 December 2023

The man in his forties, who we have called William, needed surgery after being diagnosed with acute coronary syndrome. Once the procedure was completed, the surgeon asked the anaesthetist to reverse the effects of the anticoagulant heparin with an injection of protamine sulphate.

Instead, noradrenaline was given and, as a result, William required urgent blood pressure stabilisation, areas of the graft were re-sutured and his chest cavity packed until his blood pressure settled and his bleeding had visibly resolved. Further complications arose following his transfer to ICU, where bleeding from the internal mammary artery was identified and successfully treated.

After the surgery, William suffered from acute headaches and blurred (double) vision. He was told that, because his blood pressure was so high, it should have caused his grafts to split, possibly even damage to his aorta, or a brain haemorrhage or stroke.

After the traumatic experience, William was extremely distressed by the fact that he could have died during surgery and in the immediate aftermath. He suffered from post-event anxiety and intrusive thoughts where he would worry about the potentially catastrophic events. He developed insomnia, suffering from chronic fatigue and problems with poor concentration, retaining information and memory. These symptoms had a significant and negative impact on his ability to enjoy both family and work life.

A serious investigation report was commissioned by the CEO of the London Bridge Hospital, where William had been treated, and carried out by HCA Healthcare UK, despite no formal complaint being made by William.

A copy of the comprehensive investigation report was given to William, together with the witness statements of all the practitioners involved. Various admissions of breach in duty were made, as well as a sincere apology. Despite these admissions, it was deemed that there would be no long-term impact on William and a full recovery would be made.

William instructed Leigh Day partner Suzanne White and solicitor Frankie Rhodes in light of the findings, to determine what effects the negligence had on his mental state, cognitive functioning, quality of life and employment status.

In an attempt to mitigate costs, a Letter of Notification was prepared and served to the defendant anaesthetist, via London Bridge Hospital, at an early stage. In light of the admissions made, the Defendant was invited to accept liability. The claim was acknowledged by the Medical Defence Union on behalf of the anaesthetist in April 2020.

Despite the request for an early admission of liability, the Defendant’s Representative requested a full Letter of Claim outlining the specific allegations of breach of duty, the link between the error and subsequent issues, supported by expert evidence.

At the end of March 2020, the Defendant accepted that the anaesthetist had negligently administered the Noradrenaline and this was a breach of duty which had caused loss.

Reports were obtained by Leigh Day from a neuropsychologist, a neurologist and a neuropsychiatrist. The evidence confirmed that the cause William’s ongoing symptoms were as a result of a number of factors. He had suffered significant psychological trauma as a result of what happened, and his extreme fatigue was driven by the increased effort he had to make to do everyday tasks and so it was harder for him to function as he did before the negligence.

The experts concluded that William was suffering from adjustment disorder as a result of the medication error including significant anxiety symptoms including excessive worrying which disturbed his sleep and led him to avoid doing activities he used to enjoy and socialising. He kept thinking about what had happened to him and he felt concerned about the future. Twelve sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with a qualified psychologist were recommended, with a marked improvement in symptoms anticipated once this course had been completed.

A formal Letter of Claim was served setting out the basis of William’s case and Leigh Day’s evidence to engage in meaningful discussion between the parties. The firm tried to negotiate settlement before agreeing in the summer of 2023 to accept a high five-figure sum on behalf of William as compensation for his injuries.

William said:

“I could not have asked for much more. After my initial consultation and conversations with Suzanne my case was then looked after by Frankie. They both showed great empathy towards me and what had happened and was happening going forward, and during the process. They gave me very clear advice and guidance. Also, the professionals that they arranged for me to see, to look into my case for further detail and evidence. They had such expertise and knowledge, second to none. Whilst again being kind and considerate. So, I would recommend Leigh Day. Thank you Frankie and Suzanne for all that you did’”.

Frankie Rhodes said:

“I was pleased to represent William in this matter and secure an early admission of liability, but it is a shame that it took quite so long for the Defendant to accept our position on causation. As a result of a mistake by an anaesthetist, the William had been through a very difficult experience, which left him feeling anxious about his health. He had ongoing problems which were impacting both his work and family life, but I needed to be able to show that this was linked to the alleged negligence, which required the input of multiple specialist experts. I hope this settlement helps my client enjoy a better quality of life which will enable him to look forward to a positive future."

Suzanne White
Birth injury Brain injury Cerebral palsy Inquests

Suzanne White

Suzanne White is head of the medical negligence team and has specialised in this area of law since qualifying in 1999.

Frankie Rhodes
Birth injury Brain injury Cerebral palsy Spinal injury Surgical negligence

Frankie Rhodes

Frankie Rhodes is a senior associate solicitor in the medical negligence department.

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