Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team has recently settled a claim against Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust after a patient developed lymphedema following insertion of a cannula into her ‘at risk’ arm. Lymphedema is a chronic condition that causes swelling in the body's tissues. While it can affect any part of the body, it usually develops in the arms or legs.
After the patient was diagnosed with breast cancer, her abnormal lymph nodes were cleared and she was advised that her ‘at risk’ arm should always be avoided when having injections and blood pressure readings were taken.
Over the following years, she was extremely careful to ensure that her left arm was protected to avoid the development of lymphedema. However, whilst undergoing surgery at the defendant trust’s hospital, and despite her advising the anaesthetist not to use her ‘at risk’ arm, the cannula was placed into this arm prior to the operation. The mistake was immediately realised and the cannula was removed and placed into the other arm.
Shortly after the operation, the patient’s left hand began to swell and she thought that her breast cancer had returned. On visiting her consultant however, she was advised that she had actually developed lymphedema.
The patient was understandably distressed about this and wrote to the trust to raise her concerns. Following a full investigation, the trust acknowledged that anaesthetists should try to avoid the use of such an arm and it was further acknowledged that there was an association between the episode and the development of lymphedema.
Penningtons Manches was instructed, and given the response from the trust and the information in the public domain about the avoidance of this arm, the clinical negligence team served a letter of notification on the defendant. In response, the trust carried out its investigation and a settlement was reached shortly afterwards.
Alison Johnson, a partner in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “I am really pleased that we have been able to achieve a settlement for our client. The defendant trust was prepared to enter into negotiations and conclude the claim after service of the letter of notification, which shows that early notification of a claim in accordance with the pre-action protocol can lead to prompt settlements in some cases.
“Our client’s life has been impacted by the development of lymphedema and the settlement should enable her to get the treatment that she needs and go some way towards compensating her for the injury which she now suffers. We hope that as a result of this claim, lessons will be learned by the trust to ensure that such basic errors are not repeated.”