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Unsatisfactory LASIK laser eye surgery illustrates the dangers of treatment without informed consent

Posted: 04/12/2019

The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper has been approached to act for a patient who recently underwent laser eye surgery at a private eye clinic.

Laser eye surgery is a procedure intended to correct common eye disorders known as refractive errors and to eliminate or reduce the need for glasses or contact lenses. The patient in question underwent LASIK, which is one method of performing laser eye surgery. The technique is carried out by a surgeon using a laser to cut a flap in the patient’s cornea and remove superficial corneal tissue underneath. The removal of this tissue alters the curvature of the cornea, allowing better focusing of light onto the retina and thereby improving the patient’s eyesight.

Prior to the operation, the patient experienced a mild condition known as dry eye syndrome. This is characterised by a reduction in the quality and/or quantity of tears.

Since the operation, the patient has not experienced the improvement in eyesight that she was expecting but has, instead, suffered from blurred vision with her sight being highly variable and changing on blinking. Her eye feels gritty. It is irritable and uncomfortable and she has to apply lubricating eye drops regularly throughout the day. She has been told that her problems are associated with an exacerbation of her dry eye syndrome.

Symptoms such as dry eye syndrome are a known complication after LASIK, as the conjunctiva and corneal epithelium can be damaged decreasing tear production. In some cases the symptoms can be permanent and the surgeon must explain the risk of such a problem occurring before the procedure is performed. If the surgeon does not explain the known risks, then a patient may be able to claim that they did not provide their informed consent to treatment.

In this case, there are questions over whether or not the patient was acceptably advised of the known risk of dry eye syndrome and, specifically, whether or not she was advised that her pre-existing condition increased the risk that her dry eye syndrome would be worse after treatment. If it is proved that she was not told of the risks, and that she would not have proceeded with treatment had she been told, then she will have a claim that she was not acceptably consented to treatment.

Arran Macleod, associate in Penningtons Manches Cooper’s clinical negligence team, said: “We are often alarmed by patient stories such as this where surgeons performing laser eye surgery have not informed their patients of the known and frequently occurring risks of the treatment they are to perform. In some cases patients will be able to legitimately argue that the risks of treatment outweighed the potential benefits and, had they known of the risks, they would not have proceeded. These patients may have a clinical negligence claim based on a failure by the surgeon to obtain their informed consent to treatment.”

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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.

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