When is Cataract Surgery Negligent?

12 Nov 2014 | Stephanie Prior
closeup of an eye

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Preventing Cataract Surgery Negligence

Losing your eyesight is a life-changing experience. When preparing for surgery to save your eyesight, you must make sure that you choose the best hospital known for the type of surgery you require and that the surgeon is skilled and experienced to perform the surgery. However, there is only so much you can do and for the rest of the treatment/procedure, you will have to rely on the expertise of the surgeon, hoping that they provide you with a reasonable standard of care aiming for the expected result.

As far as eye surgeries, in general, are concerned, there is a high risk that if something goes wrong, blindness (or partial blindness) might be a possible result. While not in all cases is it possible to prevent blindness, depending on the illness and the degree of its advancement, there are cases where the negative consequences (and ultimately blindness) are caused by surgical negligence.

A recent newspaper article stated that 19 negligent eye treatments were performed at Mount Stuart Hospital in Torbay, Devon. This does not help to uphold our trust in medical services. It was reported that 19 patients undergoing cataract surgery were given an overdose of antibiotics directly into their eyes.

What is a cataract?

A cataract is a condition resulting in the clouding of the lens inside the eye leading to a decrease in vision and if not treated, ultimately blindness will occur. Cataract surgeries as perceived as relatively straightforward procedures. The surgery usually takes under an hour and is performed under local anaesthetic. After the surgery, you should be able to go home within a few hours. It is expected that you might have blurred vision for a few days after the surgery, but subsequently, your sight is to improve (as in comparison with the pre-operative sight).

Low risk of serious complications from cataract surgery

The risk of serious complications of cataract surgery is very low. The risk of complications from this surgery depends on your pre-existing health conditions. That will usually be discussed with your doctor before the cataract procedure.

However, some problems might occur after the cataract surgery and these cannot be prevented, i.e. re-occurrence of cloudy vision (so-called posterior capsule opacification ‘PCO’), inflammation, infection, swelling, and retinal detachment. These complications can be treated with medication or subsequent further surgery.

Last but not least, there is a relatively small risk (1 in 1,000) that your eyesight might worsen after the surgery, and ultimately you may go blind. Therefore, Discussing all the potential risks and disclosing your medical history to the treating doctor before the surgery occurs is important.

At Mount Stuart Hospital, as a result of the direct contact of the antibiotic overdose with patients’ eyes, two patients are reportedly seriously harmed and four others show various symptoms. As a consequence of the number of mistakes made, three members of staff were suspended and are involved in a disciplinary process. Any subsequent cataract surgeries were suspended for a number of days. The most surprising is that the surgeries in question were being funded privately on behalf of the NHS, raising the expectation of services afforded to the paying patients. The hospital has offered its sincere apologies to the injured patients.

Negligent cataract surgeries

However, the negligent cataract surgeries from Mount Stuart Hospital in Torbay are not the only cases out there. Another few cases of negligent cataract surgeries were reported at the Musgrove Park Hospital in Somerset. A private provider, Vanguard Healthcare, performed the surgeries in question. It was reported by a lawyer acting on behalf of one of the injured patients that half of 62 patients who underwent cataract surgery at the Musgrove Park Hospital experienced various post-operative problems. The exact number is unknown. However, it was reported that as far as the current stance on the matter is concerned, only three injured patients reported complications.

One of the injured patients, a man 84 years of age, lost his sight due to negligent cataract surgery and requires a cornea transplant (an even more complicated surgery). While the investigations are ongoing, the hospital apologised to the patients arguing that the surgeries were being carried out by highly qualified and experienced surgeons and the reported problems were related to technical issues.

While there are various potential complications associated with cataract surgery that cannot be prevented, adverse consequences caused by medical negligence are unacceptable. They should be prevented at all costs by virtue of the potential high risk of blindness.

If you think you have suffered substandard medical treatment in hospital or by a GP or other medical professional, contact Osbornes Medical Negligence department for a free and confidential conversation on 020 7485 8811.

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