Coronary heart disease – a look at the common cardiology errors

Posted: 05/02/2016


In February each year, the British Heart Foundation and other heart disease charities focus on heart disease and how to help beat it as part of National Heart Month in the UK. 

Living with coronary heart disease (CHD) is very common – 2.6 million people in the UK have this condition and it is responsible for more than 73,000 deaths in the UK every year. The most common symptoms of CHD are angina (or chest pain), heart attacks and heart failure. 

If you are diagnosed with CHD, it is likely that you will first be seen by your GP, or perhaps by a doctor in an accident and emergency (A&E) department and then, probably, by a cardiologist.

A cardiologist is a doctor who has specialised in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the cardiovascular system, including the heart and the blood vessels in the body. You may subsequently be treated by an interventionist cardiologist - a doctor who performs invasive, catheter-based procedures on the heart and its blood vessels. If you need actual surgery on your heart or blood vessels, you will be referred to a cardiac surgeon. 

Medical errors can arise from interventional cardiology. Such errors include:

  • Failure to assess, diagnose and treat a patient who presents with symptoms that should flag up a serious cardiac condition. Examples of serious cardiac conditions that can be missed include coronary artery disease; angina (pain in the chest usually caused by coronary heart disease); endocarditis (an infection of the heart); and atherosclerosis (where the arteries become clogged, restricting blood flow to organs).
  • Failure to manage arrhythmia (an irregular heart beat), perhaps after a cardiac arrest. 
  • Failure to properly interpret the results of an electrocardiogram (ECG), a test that shows the heart’s electrical activity. 
  • Complications arising from certain invasive tests such as cardiac catheterisations. In a cardiac catheterisation, the tip of a catheter is passed up to the heart and coronary arteries to identify and treat blocked or narrowed blood vessels. 
  • Complications arising from certain invasive procedures such as an angioplasty (the surgical repair of a blood vessel) or the insertion of a pacemaker. 
  • Failure to warn the patient about complications arising from invasive tests and procedures.

Whether the medical error is made by a GP, a doctor in A&E or by a treating cardiologist, the outcome for the patient can be life-changing and, at worst, life-limiting.

Camilla Wonnacott, an associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said: “We deal with an increasing number of claims resulting from cardiology errors and see the devastation caused to both the patients and their families. If you or someone you know may have suffered an injury resulting from poor cardiology care, our experienced team can help.”


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