The Health and Disability Commissioner has determined the death of a patient was the result of failings by staff to provide services with reasonable care and skill.

The patient had elective surgery to remove a polyp.  The patient felt unwell post-surgery and was examined. It was concluded that the symptoms were expected after the surgery and expected to clear. In the following days, the patient began vomiting, hallucinating and had an increased heart rate.

The patient was transferred into the emergency department where they were assessed further. Although the staff monitored the patient, signs of an irregular heart rate were not responded to adequately, and staff failed to respond to signs of infection or notice the significant amount of fluids the patient had lost.

During this time, the doctor failed to communicate effectively with the surgeon and consultant on call.

The patient was transferred out of the emergency department despite still having a high heart rate. On the fifth day after surgery, the patient died as a result of a heart attack and sepsis (blood poisoning due to an infection).

Investigation of the patient’s treatment highlighted the poor communication during his treatment, failure to obtain further advice from consultants, and the failure to note symptoms of other underlying conditions.

In conclusion, the Commissioner suggested a number of changes, and that training be undertaken with staff including the identification of heart attacks. Additionally, copies of the report including identifying details were sent to the associations of the doctor and registered nurse responsible for the patient’s care.

Under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights, patients accessing medical services have the right to have the services provided with reasonable care and skill.

If you think that a health professional has failed to provide services to you of this standard, it is wise to consult a professional experienced in this area about your rights.

Alan Knowsley
Medical Lawyer