Tuesday, 20 March 2012

We go into hospital for treatment. We don’t expect to be set on fire.


Going into hospital is not a pleasant experience. For all that doctors and nurses do a wonderful and valuable job, for all that they’re almost invariably decent and caring people, and for all the improvements in the culinary fare on offer thanks to the NHS, it remains the case that only a tiny percentage of people actually want to go into hospital.

If we do have to go into hospital, most of us grit our teeth and say that it’s for the best. The operation, procedure or treatment we’re set to undergo will hopefully make us feel better, and then we can leave and get on with our lives.

That’s the plan. But sometimes the best laid plans go wrong. Sometimes hospitals get it wrong, and if they’ve been negligent, or worse, it’s right that the people who are affected should be able to bring medical negligence claims. The last thing that any patient should have to put up with is suffering wrong at the hands of hospital staff and having no remedy.

I say this is ‘the last thing’, but perhaps the last thing we expect, as we lie unconscious on an operating table, is to be set on fire. Surely this could only happen in our worst nightmares?

Wrong. Astonishingly, this was precisely the fate of a patient at a hospital in North Yorkshire this month. The patient was reportedly undergoing surgery only to be set on fire during the procedure when solution used to clean skin ignited.

As Liz Booth, director of operations at Scarborough and North East Yorkshire NHS Trust, said: “I can confirm that during a surgical procedure a solution used to clean the skin ignited, causing skin burns to the patient. The skin burn was treated immediately and the patient was kept in hospital overnight. As a precaution the patient was transferred to Pinderfields for further assessment and on return was discharged.”

Needless to say, Ms Booth also said that her hospital was “extremely sorry for any pain and distress”. Moreover, she announced that a full investigation was commenced within minutes. “A final report will be produced and shared with the family,” she said.

It seems to me that the report – with suitable redactions – should be made available not merely to the family concerned but to the public. Yes, accidents happen, but the trauma to this poor patient must have been considerable, not merely for the pain of the burns themselves but also on account of the incident having happened while the patient was under anaesthetic. The public have a right to know how such a regrettable incident came to pass – and they have a right to know that the hospital will take all such steps as are necessary to ensure that this never happens again.

And lastly, while the government may decry what it insists on labelling as the ‘compensation culture’, I hope that the patient has secured representation by reputable personal injury solicitors. Compensation, in circumstances like this, is exactly the price that should be paid.