Firefighter Burnt During Surgery

Medical Negligence

18.01.2010



A firefighter left seriously burnt and needing a skin graft following a surgical procedure has spoken out about the failings in his care after hospital chiefs admitted staff operating on him had been poorly trained in the use of theatre equipment.

Despite never being injured while fighting fires, the firefighter’s leg was burned so badly by the equipment used by medical staff at University Hospital Aintree during a knee examination, he had to receive over eight weeks of follow-up treatment, was off work for three months and on restricted duties for a further six months.

The hospital has admitted errors by its medical staff and settled a claim by the man - after he instructed clinical negligence law firm Irwin Mitchell to investigate why such mistakes were allowed to happen.

The client had gone into hospital for a routine exploratory surgical examination on his knee but left with serious burns. He was initially told the burns were just superficial and despite daily visits to the hospital for two weeks after the initial examination, staff repeatedly failed to realise the extent of his injuries.

When he was found screaming in agony on the floor by his partner, the couple went straight to Whiston Hospital’s specialist Burns Unit where his wounds were found to be infected and he was subsequently treated.

Commenting, Dina Lambourne from Irwin Mitchell, who represented him said; “The hospital has since strengthened a number of procedures and policies following our investigations. Lessons have been learned.

She continued:  “This was an avoidable disaster that left my client incapacitated, scarred and in pain for months.

“We hope the improvements made in procedures at University Hospital Aintree, as a result of this case, will ensure a similar incident cannot take place again.”

Dina’s client visited the hospital in November 2007 for the routine examination (an arthroscopy). The procedure is performed through small cuts in the skin, using a special telescope (arthroscope) attached to a video camera, and is used to detect knee problems such as arthritis and inflammation.

But staff had not been fully trained on the use of the equipment and ended up spilling the fluid, which is used to expand the joint, on the clients legs and as a result burnt him badly. He required a large skin graft from his upper thigh (20cm x 5cm).

He said: “I’d had two arthroscopies before, and they were fine. This time however after the procedure I was in excruciating pain. Just before I was discharged I pulled the bandage down and saw blisters on the back of my leg.

“I spoke to the nurse, then a senior nurse, then a nurse manager, who took me to A&E.

“I was told I had superficial burns and to come back the next day to see a burns’ specialist. I then spent the next fortnight going to and from the hospital for the blisters to be checked and re-bandaged every day; all the while being told the burns were just superficial.”

Unfortunately his blisters burst and became infected. It was at this point he went to Whiston Hospital.

It was only then the depth of the burns became clear, and he was prescribed antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers by doctors.

His injuries were full thickness, third degree burns and within one week he had to undergo a skin graft.

He spent the next six weeks in and out of Whiston Hospital. He was off work for three months, then returned on restricted (desk) duties.

“I couldn’t go to the gym, I couldn’t wash properly and I couldn’t do my job,” he said.

“It was a complete nightmare.”

He sought legal advice from clinical negligence specialists Irwin Mitchell, who began investigating the matter on his behalf.

“I was very angry about how complacent the staff at the hospital had been, but it was only after all the reports came out that I realised just how bad it was. There was a catalogue of errors that could have been avoided.  The lack of training or not spotting the extent of my burns was shocking.

“Now the hospital has admitted its failings I hope to draw a line under it and move on. I hope some good has come of it because the hospital has had to review so many areas and change things for the better, he concluded.”

The client is now back at work on normal duty with the Fire Service.