Compensation win after test error leads to grandfather's death

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Compensation win after test error leads to grandfather's death

25th July 2013

The widow of an elderly man who died as a result of being over-medicated after a blood test error, has received £19,000 in compensation.

The man in his 80s had a history of heart problems and dementia, and had been admitted to the emergency department of his local hospital in 2010 suffering from dehydration.

Lindsay Holt, a specialist medical negligence lawyer representing the man’s widow, explained that an initial blood test showed that he was suffering with raised potassium levels and acute chronic kidney failure. “His raised potassium levels were treated with intravenous fluids, and a repeat blood test was taken a few hours later,” said Lindsay, an associate with Fentons Solicitors LLP.

“The blood sample was taken from the same arm through which this gentleman had been receiving his IV fluids. There was a delay in this blood actually being tested at the hospital’s laboratory, and the results were not available until the early hours of the following morning. They were not brought to a doctor’s attention until seven hours later, and the results showed abnormally low levels of potassium.”

Lindsay said that although the doctor was unable to locate the patient’s records, he was aware of the discrepancy between the two blood tests. “He decided to treat the apparent deficit with a potassium infusion,” she said. “He failed to examine the patient himself and did not ask the nurses to perform basic routine observations, nor did he seek the advice of his senior colleagues on the ward.”

Within just a few hours, the elderly man suffered a cardiac arrest. “His cardiac rhythm was initially restored but he continued to deteriorate and ultimately died three hours later,” said Lindsay. “A further blood sample taken during this period showed extremely elevated potassium levels.”

Lindsay initially represented the man’s family at the inquest which followed, before then pursuing a medical negligence claim for compensation.

“At the Inquest, the Coroner found that the blood sample showing the low reading potassium levels had actually been taken from a site where the blood was diluted by the fluids the patient was receiving,” said Lindsay. “Consequently, that blood sample had been misleading and he should not have received any potassium infusion. The Coroner decided that on balance, this caused the cardiac arrest which led to this man’s death.

“There were also further criticisms of the hospital for the delays in ensuring the blood sample result was reported or that the previous blood results were reviewed; failing to undertake an urgent medical review; and the failure to consult senior colleagues for advice given the significantly abnormal second set of blood results.”

Following the Inquest, the Coroner was so concerned with the hospital’s own flawed internal investigation and that further deaths might arise from similar circumstances that he wrote to the Trust expressing his concerns and recommending changes that should be made.

“Although the hospital asserted that because of his underlying health problems, my client’s husband had a 50 per cent chance of survival and was unlikely to have survived for more than six months,” said Lindsay, “nevertheless that is six months that he was robbed of spending with his family, and they with him.

“Taking a blood sample in this way and erroneously over-prescribing treatment is one of the things the Department of Health term a ‘never event’ – it simply should never happen,” said Lindsay. “Now that the hospital has been held to account for its failings, I hope the family can finally begin the painful process of moving on with their lives.”

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons Solicitors has a specialist department experienced in handling claims involving all types of medical negligence.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.