Being Awake During Surgery Medical Negligence Lawyers
Our friendly team of specialist lawyers at Medical Solicitors help people who have suffered from negligent medical treatment leading to anaesthetic awareness. Compensation can be claimed where a patient has suffered pain and trauma from being aware during surgery due to Medical Negligence.
“I was awake during surgery!”
If you think that you have been awake during surgery, then something has gone wrong with the anaesthetic and you may be able to claim compensation for what is called ‘anaesthetic awareness’.
Do contact our friendly team of specialist lawyers at Medical Solicitors. We conduct most of our Clinical and Medical Negligence claims under ‘No Win, No Fee’ agreements, also known as Conditional Fee Agreements. So, our clients do not have to worry about how they can possibly afford to pay for the legal costs of anaesthetic awareness claims. You have nothing to lose in speaking to us.
“I was in pain but couldn’t move!”
When can anaesthetic awareness happen?
Anaesthetic awareness can occur during surgery but also after surgery, in the recovery room. Also, after surgery in intensive care, where patients are kept sedated or tranquilised. It can occur whilst patients are paralysed (and intubated) and are connected to life-support machines.
Some patients may dream around the time of surgery. This is common (3 to 6%), but it does not constitute awareness and can confuse the issue. Patients may also recall sounds or conversations as well as the presence of airway devices still in their body as they regain consciousness. A patient may mistakenly think this was as awareness. On the other hand, true cases of being awake during surgery can be difficult to detect.
How often does being awake during surgery happen?
Doctors now recognise that patients being awake during surgery ocurrs more than many previously thought. Public awareness is also increasing, with cases involving failings in medical care receiving more attention in the media than ever before. Do you remember the 2007 Hollywood film “Awake” that drew many people’s attention to the subject? In addition, doctors have conducted research (through clinical trials involving large numbers of patients) that have shown that around 1 or 2 patients out of every 1000 experience some form of awareness.
How do patients know if they have been awake during surgery?
Some patients report anaesthetic awareness immediately after surgery. Others may not realise they were aware until days or even weeks after the event. A well-established method of detecting awareness involves the use of what is called a ‘Brice interview’. This method involves asking the following questions:
- What was the last thing you remembered happening before you went to sleep?
- What was the first thing you remembered happening on waking?
- Did you dream or have any other experiences while you were sleep?
- What was the worst thing about your operation?
- What was the next worse thing?
Consequences of anaesthetic awareness during surgery:
Awareness can lead to anxiety, fear of surgery and anaesthesia and sleep disturbances. It can also lead to flashbacks, nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
There are also consequences for the anaesthetist too. A study by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) showed that 1.9% of claims were for anaesthetic awareness. The blame was put on substandard care, such as mistakes in drug labelling and administration.
There are often various causes of intra-operative awareness:
- Misjudging the dose needed for a patient
- Problems tolerating side effects of anaesthetic agents
- Failure to detect that a patient is in a state of awareness, or light anaesthesia
- Problems with equipment and drug delivery
Problems with anaesthetic side effects:
General anaesthesia can slow down the cardiovascular system. There are some types of surgery where anaesthetic doses may be deliberately reduced for safety, to maintain blood pressure. However, the risks of a patient then experiencing some degree of awareness during surgery does increase.
These typically include cardiac surgery, emergency or trauma surgery and Caesarean section. In Caesarean section, there are also concerns about the effects of general anaesthetic upon the unborn child, more so where there are pre-existing concerns about the unborn child.
A thorough history and examination can identify whether a patient is at greater risk of suffering anaesthetic awareness. Specific factors may include:
- A history of previously having reported feeling awake during a surgery.
- Drug abuse. Also being a long-term user of opiates for chronic pain, heart and vascular problems.
- A previous history of difficult intubation or anticipated difficult intubation.
- Heart, Caesarean, emergency and trauma surgery carry higher risks of anaesthetic awareness.
- The anaesthetic technique may also increase the risk, if muscle relaxants are used.
- Also, the risks increase with the where the anaesthetic is given just by inhalation (this is called ‘TIVA’), rather than through the veins or if rigid bronchoscopy is used.
If risk factors are present, this should be discussed with you and you may be offered medication (benzodiazepines) before the anaesthetic to relax you (called ‘pre-medication’).
Methods for reducing the risks during surgery:
- Drugs (benzodiazepines) can be used at the start of anaesthesia, particularly if a difficulty is anticipated the intubation stage.
- There are other methods for managing blood pressure and heart rate, other than adjusting the level of anaesthetic. For example, using a vasopressor or an inotrope rather than continually reducing the anaesthetic concentration.
- Monitoring brain activity in a patient (through ‘EEG’) is a technique. However, this is not routinely used in the UK.
It may also be worth considering using depth of anaesthesia monitoring when available (see below). Despite precautions and good technique, some cases of anaesthetic awareness will still occur. Anaesthetists’ records should be clear about when drugs were administered and in what dose. It should also be clear what forms of monitoring were used.
What should happen if a patient reports being awake during surgery?
If a patient complains of being awake during surgery, it is important a doctor visits them to identify exactly what has happened. It is necessary to differentiate between dreams or recall of events that represent real awareness. Denying the patient’s version of events may contribute to a worse psychological outcome for them so it is important to apologise for their experience and express some sympathy. Detailed written records of these processes are vital.
The patient should receive adequate psychological support afterwards not only in the form of a regular visit by the anaesthetist but with the referral for counselling or psychotherapy if necessary. The patient’s general practitioner should also be informed so that this information can be taken into account when future treatments may be planned.
So, although being aware during surgery is a potentially devastating it is a rare event. It may not be possible to prevent every case from happening, but it is possible to identify high-risk cases. Once risks have been identified your doctors can plan to reduce the risks. In any event, for all patients, doctors must take great care to avoid errors.
Follow our links below to quickly access our information pages about how we can help with: a complaint about care, funding a medical negligence claim for anaesthetic awareness, and more:
Support for Anaesthetic Awareness
You may need emotional, practical, or even financial support after going through this distressing experience. If so, we have a web-page with important information for you about where to go. Please click here.
Our most recent Anesthetic Awareness Case
One of our clients contacted us to complain about having anaesthetic awareness, more technically known as ‘intra-operative awareness.’ Our client was unable to communicate the fact that she had awareness as she was given a muscle relaxant, which meant she could not move and could not communicate the fact that she was awake. Her blood pressure increased as she was panicking and only then was it discovered that our client was awake. Her anaesthetic was increased so she went back to sleep. However, post-operatively she was really distressed and suffered a recognised psychological injury.
Our client got in touch with us for advice on making a complaint. We assisted her with the complaints procedure and provided advice on the draft root cause analysis investigation report the Defendant prepared. Following some initial screening work, which involved contacting an expert in the field, we were able to serve the Defendant with a Letter of Claim. We had to ask the Defendant to respond to specific questions our client had raised, which she wanted answering in order to aid her psychological injury recovery. The claim was settled for £20,000 within a year of our client contacting us
Follow our links below to quickly access our information pages about how we can help with: a complaint about care, funding a medical negligence claim and more:
- defining your needs after poor medical care
- complaining about care
- funding a medical negligence claim
- Conditional fee agreements
- Time limits
- How are claims settled?s
Read Dianne Parr’s story in the Daily Mail:
Contact our Anaesthetic Awareness Medical & Clinical Negligence Claims Solicitors
We provide urgent legal advice and support for patients anywhere in England & Wales. We have doctors and barristers located all over the UK, who provide us with meeting facilities, in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Yorkshire, Oxford, Manchester, Leeds, Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle and beyond. Our team will travel to see clients. We think it best to see our clients in the comfort of their own home over a cup of tea. You are not a number to us. Call or email our friendly team free of charge for specialist legal advice on a no win no fee basis today.
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