In a recent case, the Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner has found a health board in breach of a patient’s right to have services provided with reasonable care and skill. The patient presented to the emergency department with a shard of glass protruding from her lower leg. The registrar recorded the loss of feeling on the patient’s heel and informed her the senior orthopaedic surgeon would be consulted in the morning after which she would be contacted by phone. The patient was subsequently sutured and discharged.

After meeting with the senior consultant surgeon in the morning, the registrar contacted the patient and advised her that surgery was not necessary and to follow up with her GP. The wound became infected and scarred. The sensory loss in her heel became extremely painful to where she was referred firstly to a physiotherapist, then a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. The reconstructive surgeon informed the patient her nerve should have been operated on within 48 hour as there was now extensive damage. Almost eight months after the initial injury, the patient underwent exploratory surgery and a nerve graft.

The investigation into this sequence of events found the health board had breached the patient’s rights in failing to follow up with her at any point, and there was lack of adequate support to junior staff in the hospital allowing for the safe treatment of patients. The health board were required to apologise to the patient and use the report for training purposes.

Alan Knowsley
Medical Lawyer