Knee replacement surgery is a common procedure performed on older patients throughout the world, but there are instances when things don’t go as planned. For Sylvia, an 80-year-old woman from Worcester, her need for knee surgery became pressing after she had experienced consistent pain after twisting her leg. As someone who spent time line dancing and enjoying other lively activities, she felt the need to visit her GP to see about available recourse for her discomfort. After a brief visit and exam in early 2012, the woman was referred to a specialist at a local clinical commissioning group to further discussion and treatment options. She was sent along to the NHS for a full knee replacement shortly after that.
Having a full knee replacement surgery requires some downtime for recovery, but the woman felt as though something was wrong shortly after her procedure. The pain around her knee was unforgiving, and she experienced a limited range of motion that she wasn’t expected post-surgery. She made four separate visits to her doctor to explain her persistent issues, only to be told that it was most likely due to a tissue strain that is common after a knee replacement. Six months after the surgery, she was rushed to an A&E unit due to unbearable pain, and a full x-ray proved her initial concerns were valid. Her knee was dislocated, and it required a manipulation to set back into place. Because the dislocation went overlooked for such a long time, the woman was required to undergo a second knee replacement surgery in January of 2013.
The Absence of a Duty of Care
Within the medical field, patients have a set of rights based on case law presented over the years. The right to consent, which is the opportunity to refuse consent to treatment, examination or advice, the right to information, and the right to a duty of care are all included in a patient’s bill of rights. The last provision, the right to a duty of care, means that healthcare professionals must use reasonable care and skill when providing treatment and examination, and patients are ultimately entitled to receive a degree of care that meets standards set forth by a responsible body of medical opinion. When there is a lack of a duty of care in medical treatment, patients may have the ability to sue a provider for medical negligence.
In the case of the knee replacement, the personal injury firm that worked with the patient was able to uncover that a lack of an appropriate standard of duty of care was part of the underlying issue. Through its investigation, the firm found that the surgeon who performed the original knee replacement did not place the knee correctly and avoided warning signs that the knee’s rotation would be negatively impacted. Given this discovery, NHS England had no choice but to accept the liability that the first knee replacement surgery was substandard and lacked an acceptable standard of care for the patient.
The woman had a successful second knee surgery, but she is required to walk with a cane for the remainder of her life and has considerable pain and limited range of motion given the dislocation that was untouched after the first procedure. While she was able to receive compensation with the help of the solicitor firm, she is unable to do the things she enjoyed prior to the initial procedure. The duty of care standard is part of a patient’s set of rights to help avoid these preventable issues in medical practice.