Post-operative infection - when is negligent medical care to blame?

Posted: 06/01/2014


The Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team is often asked to advise on claims involving post-operative infection.  Anyone who has suffered an infection after surgery knows how miserable and disabling it can be and the significant impact it can have on their recovery time. With all the publicity regarding MRSA and hospital infection, it is not surprising that people often query whether the hospital is at fault.

The reality is  that, even with the best hygiene procedures, infection is a recognised risk of any surgical procedure.  While some procedures carry higher risks than others and some patients are at more risk than others, the possibility of infection after surgery is always there and is a recognised risk that is highlighted in the consent procedure. Very often there is no explanation of when or how infection starts  and no evidence of any fault in the medical care.   However, there are two scenarios where clinical negligence lawyers will often advise that a claim relating to infection should be investigated. The first is where a very obvious failure in hygiene/infection control can be identified. This might be failure to sterilise equipment or to contain and isolate patients with serious infections that may spread . In our experience, the numbers of such cases are reducing as infection control improves but now and again there are such clear failures  which mean that individuals suffering infection as a result could have a potential claim for compensation.

The second and more common scenario is a failure to identify and manage post-operative infection.  Given that the development of infection after surgery is always a possibility and the consequences can be serious, it is incumbent on those involved in post-operative care to be alert to signs of infection and act quickly if they develop.  The Penningtons Manches' team has dealt with a number of cases after abdominal surgery where infection has developed but, by the time it has been acted upon, the situation has become very serious. Equally,  the team has had a number of cases involving infection after joint surgery where the delay in acting upon signs of infection has had a significant impact on overall outcome.

Philippa Luscombe, partner in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, commented: "Sadly, post-operative infection remains a risk of any surgery and a percentage of patients will suffer this, sometimes with serious consequences . In most cases, there is no basis for any claim as infection is a recognised risk that can materialise with no fault. However, there is no excuse for failing to adhere to hygiene and infection control procedures or failing to take any signs of post-operative infection seriously. Where these failings do occur, the outcome can be a very seriously compromised patient and, in these circumstances, significant claims for damages should be made."


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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.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP