A Hospital Trust has apologised and agreed an out of court compensation settlement with a patient after a surgical swab was left in her following an operation to remove cancer.
It caused the 61-year-old patient to need further surgery, leading to her having to postpone her next cycle of chemotherapy treatment.
It was after undergoing a hysterectomy procedure at Castle Hill Hospital in East Yorkshire in March 2022 that the swab was mistakenly left in the patient.
Such medical negligence errors are classed by the NHS as ‘Never Events’ – serious incidents which are wholly preventable. In this case, the error could have been avoided simply by ensuring each and every swab used during the procedure was counted, and then counted again at the end, to ensure all had been removed.
Wound reopened weeks after being discharged
A few weeks after being discharged home, the woman noticed her wound from the surgery had reopened and was weeping. She returned to hospital and after a period on antibiotics proved unsuccessful, she was sent for a CT scan which revealed the swab had been left inside her.
She had to undergo further surgery to remove the swab, meaning she had to postpone a scheduled session of chemotherapy as she waited for the wound to heal for a second time.
The woman sought representation from our medical negligence claims team at Hudgell Solicitors, who secured an out of court damages settlement from Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which admitted breaching its duty of care.
“I sought legal representation as I didn’t feel that my consultant was compassionate or understanding enough about the impact this had on me,” said the woman.
“It was difficult for both myself and my husband when the wound opened up. There was the worry of what was causing it initially, especially given I’d had surgery to remove cancer, and my husband had to help me clean and redress the wound, which wasn’t pleasant.
“That was a real period of worry and anxiety and I was prone to bouts of crying and felt I was lacking in energy, so I went for counselling. Even now, if I feel anything unusual I start to panic in case something else has gone wrong.
“It also impacted on my social life; I have always enjoyed attending live music events and had to miss several gigs I had tickets for due to the delays caused to my treatment, and because I felt the need to be cautious about my wound and how vulnerable it made me feel.
“After the surgery to remove the swab, the wound blistered, and when I asked the consultant why this had happened she was quite dismissive, which I felt was unacceptable given it was the hospital’s error that had caused it. That was when I sought legal action, as I wanted the Trust to take it seriously, and not be so dismissive about the fears it caused me.”
Investigation led to changes in procedure
An investigation by the Trust found a medium swab had been used to hold back the woman’s bowel to improve visualisation of the area during the procedure, which was not a common occurrence, and that it may have been missed before the wound was closed. A scrub nurse admitted the final swab count, completed after skin closure, had been counted incorrectly.
As part of learnings from the incident, recommendations have since been made for theatre teams to use larger swabs which have long tags attached to them; which can remain outside a patient’s body; for similar procedures. All members of theatre teams involved in swab, needles and instrument counts were also required to review guidance with regards to surgical procedures, and the minimum standards expected.
It was also recommended that audits of all theatres be undertaken to ensure national guidance was being followed and met.
“I’m pleased that my case has led to changes in procedure, and I hope that message has been spread wider than just this Trust,” said the woman. “This was never a case for me of getting as much money as I could from them. I wanted it properly reviewed, and a damages settlement which I felt suggested they have appreciated the impact this has had on me.
“They made me an initial offer which I found derisory, but then offered more, which I was happy to accept as I wanted to move on and put it behind me.”
‘The most basic of errors’
Kirsty Yates, of Hudgell Solicitors’ medical negligence claims team, represented the woman, and said: “This was of course a very worrying time for this lady given she had undergone a hysterectomy procedure as part of her ongoing treatment for cancer.
“When the wound started to deteriorate, she was understandably concerned over what was happening to her and found herself increasingly anxious and tearful. She was also unable to exercise properly during the time it took for the wound to heal, which impacted on her mental health.”
“As a result of the wound deterioration, and the subsequent surgery to remove the foreign object, the wound blistered further. As a result of this, a portion of her scar has not healed as well as the upper section, and there is now a loss of sensation in this area.
“We were pleased that the Trust made an early admission of liability in this matter. It was the most basic of errors, which is supported by the “Never Event” report, completed by the Trust. It is promising to see that changes have been made to procedures which will hopefully prevent a similar incident happening again.”
What is medical negligence?
No matter how high the standards of care and treatment in our health services, things can sometimes go wrong. Medical negligence occurs if you receive substandard treatment by a medical professional, whether that’s directly causing an injury, or making an injury or condition worse. Medical negligence can also happen if you are misdiagnosed, receive the wrong treatment, or a mistake is made during surgery.