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Women succeed in claims against GPs for incorrectly fitted contraceptive devices

Posted: 09/08/2017

Women have a number of choices when it comes to contraceptive devices and as long as they are fitted correctly and carefully, they have very high success rates. However, the consequences of a failed contraceptive device can be life-changing; namely an unplanned pregnancy.

In some instances, an unplanned pregnancy can be down to the negligence of a doctor, nurse or technician, who has inserted the device incorrectly. Women may also suffer from pain and scarring if there has been an error when a contraceptive device has been fitted.

There are two main types of contraceptive devices available to women:

  • the intrauterine device (IUD), which is more commonly referred to as the coil. It is made out of either copper or plastic and is surgically implanted into the womb to prevent pregnancy. ParaGard and Mirena are the two main types available
  • the implant is the shape of a rod and approximately the size of a matchstick. It is inserted beneath the skin in the upper arm and gradually releases the hormone progesterone to prevent pregnancy.

Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team has represented a number of women who have received poor medical care with regard to fitting of contraceptive coils and implants and knows how unpleasant the consequences can be.

For example, one woman had a coil fitted by her GP who appropriately asked her about the timing of her last period, but failed to ask whether she had had sexual intercourse since that date, and hence establish whether she could be pregnant. The fitting of the coil went ahead and all seemed well, but the woman soon became worried by how heavy her bleeding was. She had noticed that she was passing clots. She sought medical advice and a pregnancy test was positive. Sadly, an ultrasound scan showed that her unborn baby was abnormal and she therefore had to undergo a termination in the most difficult and traumatic of circumstances. It was alleged that the GP negligently failed to follow national guidelines for the fitting of coils. The coil should have been fitted within very specific timescales and the possibility of pregnancy should have been excluded first, either by pregnancy testing or confirmation of abstinence or protected intercourse.

A second example involves a woman whose contraceptive implant was wrongly inserted. When she attended her GP surgery to have the contraceptive implant inserted into her arm, she was aware that it would need removing in three years’ time. The client returned to her GP a few months before the third anniversary as she planned to try to start a family. However, the attempt by the GP to remove the implant was difficult and unsuccessful as it seemed to have been inserted deeply and was not readily accessible. The GP decided to refer the woman to the gynaecological team at the local hospital instead. They were able to remove the implant under local anaesthetic, having found that it had indeed been positioned incorrectly and was over the anterior aspect of the upper arm rather than the medial aspect, where it is designed to be placed. The woman had been left with a visible scar from the unsuccessful attempts the GP had made to remove the implant and she also needed to undergo a hospital procedure to finally have it removed. She suffered pain in her arm, required care and assistance with some tasks and was left distressed by the visible scarring on her upper arm.

Alison Johnson, associate director in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, who specialises in gynaecological and pregnancy-related claims, says: “If you have experienced a mistake in relation to the fitting of a contraceptive device, potentially resulting in an unplanned pregnancy or causing you pain and scarring, you may be eligible to make a clinical negligence claim. It should be noted however that claiming compensation for an unplanned pregnancy, in particular, is a very complex and understandably emotive process and we would strongly encourage you to seek specialist advice.”

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP