Court proceedings served against GP for scarring caused by cryotherapy treatment

Posted: 13/11/2014


Penningtons Manches has recently served court proceedings on behalf of a client who developed prominent scarring following cryotherapy treatment performed by her general practitioner on a wart on her knee.

Cryotherapy is the use of cold temperatures for medical treatment, with the name originating from the Greek 'cryo' meaning 'cold' and 'therapy' meaning 'cure'.  Cryotherapy treatment usually involves the use of liquid nitrogen, which is extremely cold and boils at minus 196 degrees Celsius, to freeze the affected area. It can be used to treat a variety of different conditions such as skin tags, viral warts, scar tissue, small skin cancers, acne, wrinkles and burns. 

Cryotherapy treatment is usually performed by a dermatologist or general practitioner but is also used by cosmetic surgeons.   It is important to be accurate when treating the affected area so that surrounding healthy tissue is not damaged.  For this reason, liquid nitrogen is applied with a spray gun, metal probe or cotton bud. 

Application of the liquid nitrogen lasts for a matter of seconds, although the precise timing depends on the nature of the specific lesion being treated. The treatment freezes the skin which turns it white but, after a few minutes, the skin should thaw to a normal temperature.  The area will then scab over and usually takes a few weeks to heal. 

The most common side effects of cryotherapy are pain, discomfort, swelling, redness and blistering.  Infection is uncommon but can occur.  Scarring is rare but can occur when a deeper freeze has been necessary, for example when treating skin cancer. 

It is alleged that the general practitioner who performed the cryotherapy procedure on our client did so without adequate training and experience in the procedure and without regard to the relevant guidelines. He also applied the freezing spray for an excessive period of time and to an area of skin significantly larger than the wart itself. 

This treatment caused the client to suffer from significant pain and discomfort and she had difficulty mobilising as her knee felt 'frozen'.  The wound on her right knee blistered and burst before sloughing to leave an ulcerated area which subsequently became infected. She attended hospital on two occasions where she was diagnosed with cellulitis and prescribed antibiotics. Although her wound has now healed, she has been left with an unsightly scar and noticeable discolouring.

The clinical negligence team obtained supportive expert evidence from an independent general practitioner about the treatment that was provided and, following a denial of liability by the defendant, issued and served court proceedings.

Sarah Gubbins, specialist clinical negligence and cosmetic surgery lawyer at Penningtons Manches, comments: “Cryotherapy is considered to be a relatively safe and straightforward procedure and our client had previously undergone a number of cryotherapy treatments to remove warts, without suffering any complications.  It is very unfortunate that this young woman suffered such prominent scarring but this case highlights the need for cryotherapy treatment to be administered safely.” 

 


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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.

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