Accident and emergency (A&E) departments are busy places. Yet despite the demands placed on medical staff, you are entitled to receive an acceptable standard of care. If medical practitioners fail to achieve this, it could lead to a medical negligence claim.
Mistakes in A&E
A&E departments across Ireland provide a vital service and, for the most part, effectively treat urgent illnesses and injuries. Unfortunately, however, mistakes do happen. These may be made by senior consultants, junior doctors, nurses – or any other medical professional working in A&E at the time.
Being subject to medical errors is an unpleasant experience for the patient and their family, dampening their faith in the medical system. It can also be dangerous, as it may worsen the patient’s condition. This can lead to a prolonged period of pain and suffering, and/or a poor prognosis.
If this has happened to you, you might wonder whether the error was an unfortunate event that you must accept, or whether you have actually been the victim of medical negligence.
Can you make a medical negligence claim?
The easiest way to answer this question is to contact us at Gibson & Associates for a no-obligation enquiry. We can assess your case and explain whether you have grounds for a medical negligence claim. However, it can help to know what medical negligence means, and who is able to make a claim.
Medical negligence is when the level of care falls below an acceptable standard. If you experience poor care in A&E, the actions of your treating doctors/nurses will be compared against other A&E practitioners. If your treating practitioners deviated from approved practice, the standard of care has fallen short. This is known as a breach of duty.
If a breach of duty has caused you to suffer, either physically or psychologically, there will be grounds for a medical negligence claim.
Types of A&E negligence claims
Medical mistakes in A&E departments occur in all sorts of ways. Some common causes of A&E negligence claims include:
Misdiagnosis/failure to diagnose
Wrongly diagnosing a patient’s condition, or failing to diagnose a patient’s condition, are the most frequent causes of A&E negligence claims. This includes serious illnesses that require urgent medical intervention, such as a stroke, heart attack or acute infection (such as appendicitis). It can also include broken bones and spinal injuries.
Failing to diagnose a patient’s illness or injury can have drastic consequences. It can result in a poor outcome, whereas a timely diagnosis would have led to a full recovery. It can mean a prolonged period of pain and suffering for the patient. The patient may also require more extensive treatment, which would have been avoided with an earlier diagnosis.
Failure to carry out the right investigations/diagnostic tests
A failure to diagnose often happens because A&E practitioners fail to carry out the right medical investigations. This can relate to a lack of physical examinations, which means a complete picture of the patient’s symptoms is not obtained. Or, it might mean a lack of diagnostic tests, such as x-rays, an MRI scan and blood tests. Medical practitioners may also fail to ask a patient about their medical history, meaning key warning signs are missed.
Without the right investigations, medical practitioners will not be in possession of all the facts, making it difficult to reach a correct diagnosis. Sometimes this happens because the A&E department is overcrowded – which it often is. However, it does not matter how busy the hospital is; every patient deserves to receive a proper standard of care.
Failure to interpret the test results/symptoms
Another possible reason for a misdiagnosis is that medical practitioners carry out the correct investigations, but they fail to interpret the test results or symptoms accurately. This can happen with all types of injury and illness. For example, doctors may look at an x-ray image and fail to see a fractured bone. Or, they may mistake a fever for the flu, when it is in fact the early signs of sepsis.
This can lead to a patient being discharged from hospital without the care they need. Even if a patient subsequently returns to a healthcare setting, the treating medical practitioners will see that tests were formerly carried out and that they were not a cause for concern. This can result in a repetitive cycle, whereby a patient is continually misdiagnosed.
Failure to refer to a specialist
During the course of a patient’s visit to A&E, doctors must decide whether to refer a patient to medical practitioners who specialise in other fields of medicine, such as neurology, orthopaedics or cardiology. These specialists can be invaluable, as they have a deeper understanding of certain illnesses and injuries.
Sometimes, an A&E doctor will fail to refer a patient to a specialist when he/she should have. This means a patient does not receive the correct diagnosis and treatment – something which would have been achieved, had a specialist become involved in their care.
Other times, A&E practitioners will eventually arrive at a correct diagnosis, but only after considerable delay. This can be extremely problematic in emergency situations, whereby the patient’s wellbeing depends on a timely diagnosis and urgent treatment. This is particularly true of conditions such as meningitis, brain haemorrhages, strokes, heart attacks, sepsis, appendicitis, perforated bowels and other acute infections. In these cases, the patient may not survive the delay, or may experience a less favourable outcome.
A delayed diagnosis can also cause difficulties with injuries such as fractures. This is because the bone can become misaligned. If so, surgery may be needed to correct the alignment. Even with treatment, the delay may mean that a patient does not achieve a full recovery.
Administering the wrong medication/dosage
Issues can arise if a patient is given the wrong type of medication, or the wrong dosage is administered. The type of medication might be considered ‘wrong’ if it not effective in treating the patient’s condition, or if it is not compatible with the patient’s existing health complaints. This can be very dangerous, potentially leading to further health problems.
On the other hand, the wrong dosage might be administered because the doctor or nurse makes a mistake. Or, it might occur because of poor record keeping, whereby the medication given to a patient is not written down properly, resulting in an overdose. This can place a patient in a critical condition, and may also cause long-term damage.
Failing to consider allergies
Another potential cause for negligence is when a patient is prescribed a certain medication, even though he/she is known to be allergic to it. Where an allergy exists, medical practitioners should be careful to administer alternative forms of treatment. The allergy should also be clearly stated in the patient’s medical records, ensuring the message is conveyed to medical practitioners who are seeing the patient for the first time. This is important in A&E departments, where staff work in shifts, meaning there is not always a continuity of care.
Hospital acquired infections
Medical practitioners should take care to prevent the spread of hospital acquired infections through high hygiene standards. If a patient does develop a hospital acquired infection, such as MRSA or C. difficile, it should be quickly diagnosed and treated. This will prevent the patient’s condition from deteriorating, and will prevent the further spread of infection.
While not all hospital acquired infections can be avoided, it can amount to negligence if the patient developed an infection due to poor hygiene practices. It can also amount to negligence if the infection was not diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion, resulting in problems that could otherwise have been avoided.
Not obtaining consent
Consent must be obtained from a patient before treatment is carried out. This requires medical practitioners to inform the patient of all the risks. If treatment is performed without the patient’s consent (or their family’s consent), or a patient is not fully informed of the risks and something goes wrong, the level of care could be considered substandard.
Making an A&E negligence claim
There are others ways in which an A&E negligence claim might arise, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. A&E departments deal with a vast range of illnesses and injuries, so the clinical nature of your claim will differ to the next persons.
Whatever the circumstances, if you have experienced a substandard level of care in an A&E department in Ireland, or your loved one has, please contact us at Gibsons & Associates. We can assess your case and confirm whether you are entitled to take legal action. If so, we will prepare your case, working tirelessly to get you the compensation you deserve.
Your compensation settlement cannot undo your injuries, but it does provide some form of redress. The sum that is awarded to you will reflect the extent of your pain and suffering, and will recover your actual financial losses. This includes things such as your lost earnings and the cost of medication.
Time limits for A&E negligence claims
Like most types of medical negligence claim, you only have two years to bring a claim. Usually, this starts on the date the negligence occurred. This is not always clear cut in A&E negligence cases, particularly if the patient attended A&E on more than one occasion. We can establish the date of limitation in your case.
Because of the time limits, we recommend seeking early legal advice. Otherwise, you may miss your opportunity to claim compensation.
To speak to a medical negligence solicitor, complete our online enquiry form, or phone us on 01 872 3143 today.
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