A man suffered serious burns to his leg when his GP set bedding alight during a routine operation to remove skin tags from the back of his knee.
The fire was caused when the doctor used a flammable numbing spray – ethyl chloride – instead of a local anaesthetic injection, as the patient had a phobia of needles.
However, in using the spray along with a cautery tool, the doctor caused paper protecting the couch his patient was laid on to catch fire, causing burns to both his upper and lower leg.
“It was like having poured petrol on, it went ‘whoosh’,” said the man, 44, who suffered burns covering several inches which blistered, causing severe pain.
“As he touched my leg with the cautery tool, the paper underneath me set alight and it started to burn my leg.
“I jumped up and he tried damping my leg with wet paper towels. I was in so much pain it was unreal, but they were not really very helpful. They were running around like headless chickens, saying it was the first time it had ever happened.”
Case led to compensation settlement and ‘Significant Event Review’ at surgery
Having taken legal advice from medical negligence claims handler Kirsty Yates at Hudgell Solicitors, indemnifiers on behalf of the GP Practice involved offered an undisclosed damages settlement to the patient, which he has now accepted.
The surgery also launched its own Significant Event Review to look into the incident, which caused the patient to need six weeks off from his roofing job, leaving him in too much pain to wear clothes or straighten his leg due to the burns blistering.
The patient, who chose to have the procedure as he felt self-conscious about the skin tags on the back of his knee and another under his arm, ended up going to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital to have the burns dressed after the blisters popped.
Having now recovered from his injuries, he says the incident, which happened on March 8 this year, has left him too scared to go back for any more treatment on the skin tag on his knee, which he still has.
He is now trying to find another GP practice to register with.
“My leg healed eventually but I was off work for six weeks, and for the first three weeks I couldn’t move it at all,” he said.
“I had a burning sensation and the blisters were terrible, I couldn’t put clothes or covers on it up. I won’t be going back to that GP.”
Report highlighted failure to be prepared and ‘insufficient thought’ around treatment
The surgery’s Significant Event Review highlighted how, despite having previously discussed the procedure with the patient, the surgery had not picked up that he was needle phobic prior to him arriving for the removal of skin tags.
It said that after the patient informed the GP and healthcare assistant that he was needle phobic, the assistant suggested using a the ethyl chloride, with ‘insufficient thought’ given to the possible risks involved.
After initially successfully numbing the underarm area and removing a skin tag with a cautery tool, the GP then applied the solution to his knee, which spilled onto the paper protecting the couch he was laid on. When the cautery tool was used again, the fire ignited.
The review concluded: “Insufficient thought was given to the risks of using ethyl chloride and the cautery machine. The GP did not think about the risk of fire and was falsely reassured after the first successful procedure.”
The surgery involved has now instructed its GPs and healthcare assistants to never use the flammable solution when using the cautery tool.
Kirsty Yates, of Hudgell Solicitors, said: “This should have been a straight-forward procedure but ended in a very traumatic, painful injury being suffered by my client.
“The liquid was known to be very flammable and you would have expected the GP to have known the risks with using it with the cautery tool.
“The review highlighted that the GP was not fully prepared for the appointment in that he was unaware of the patient’s fear of needles, and also that they decided to try carrying out the procedure without enough thought to whether it was appropriate, or for patient safety. That is very worrying and completely unacceptable.
“It must have been very distressing and frightening for my client. The blisters were extremely nasty and took some time to heal, causing him to lose his income for several weeks. It was only right that he be compensated for his injuries.”