Orthopaedics – Part 2: Claims involving medical negligence and infection following surgery
Keyhole surgery and compensation for infections
Whenever a foreign body is introduced surgically, there is the potential for infection to develop.
Generally speaking, an infection after knee or hip replacement is a recognised complication of surgery and is not itself attributable to negligence. The infection can be relatively minor (surgical site infection, necessitating antibiotic treatment) or more serious (involving tissues and bone).
However, delayed diagnosis and treatment of infection could well be unacceptable and give rise to a claim for compensation, particularly where the infection has necessitated removal of a prosthesis and caused extensive damage to surrounding tissues.
Infections can also arise whenever a surgical instrument is introduced or inserted into the body, for example an arthroscopy (keyhole surgery whereby a camera and small surgical instruments are inserted into a joint to repair damaged ligaments, for instance).
In more serious cases, where infection has damaged much of the joint, patients may need to undergo an arthroplasty (fusion) of the joint, leaving them with a fixed, functionless limb which severely limits their quality of life. This can result in a lifelong need for care and assistance, or adaptations to the home to accommodate walking aids or equipment, etc.
There have also been instances where prostheses manufacturers have produced faulty hip and knee components. The most recent occurrence of this is the recall of hip prostheses produced by DePuy, which have a high failure rate due to defects in the manufacturing process.
Arthroscopy – keyhole surgery
A lot of younger patients who have suffered sporting injuries, such as torn ligaments and cartilage (ACL or MCL tears) undergo a procedure known as arthroscopy. A camera and other small surgical instruments are inserted into the joint (most commonly the knee) to explore what damage has occurred and try to repair it.
As it is a keyhole procedure, it has a lot of benefits – very minor scarring, very quick to perform (usually on a day-case basis), and quicker recovery time. However, the downside with such procedures is that often the surgeon cannot adequately visualise the surrounding structures within the joint and damage can occur necessitating remedial surgery (i.e. ligament repair or patella resurfacing).
If a surgeon strays off course, this may amount to unacceptable treatment and give rise to a legal claim.
Should you require assistance with a claim relating to Orthopaedic surgery or any other medical matter, please contact a member of the medical negligence team, on 0800 316 8892.