wrong site surgery claims

Wrong-site surgeries occur frequently in hospitals and clinics in South Africa. These acts of malpractice are horrifying and indefensible under the law.

How common are wrong-site surgeries?

Wrong-site surgeries are more common than you might suppose. This applies in South Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Wrong-site surgery statistics in South Africa

One retrospective review of orthopaedic malpractice claims in South Africa over a 10-year period found that 3.5% of malpractice claims were due to wrong-site surgeries.

More recently, wrong-site surgeries figured among the ten most common sentinel events reported to The Joint Commission in 2020. A sentinel event is a patient safety event that “…results in death, permanent harm or severe temporary harm”.

A total of 68 wrong-site surgeries were reported in 2020. However, note that according to the report itself, “…it is estimated that less than 2% of all sentinel events that occur in health care are reported to The Joint Commission.”

Wrong-site surgery statistics from the UK

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) saw an increase in wrong-site surgeries from 2012 to 2018, possibly due to more complex surgeries being performed.

Over six years, the NHS paid a total of £11.3 million in damages for wrong-site surgery claims.

Wrong-site surgery statistics from the US

Statistics from the United States are equally concerning.

According to 2020 statistics from The Joint Commission, more than 27% of US surgical malpractice claims from 2018 to 2020 involved wrong-site surgeries. Cases of wrong-patient and wrong-procedure errors were also recorded.

Most common sites of wrong-site surgeries

Wrong-site surgeries are more common on certain areas of the body. According to a medico-legal article published in the SA Orthopaedic Journal, the most common wrong-site surgeries in South Africa are:

  • arthroscopy (joint) surgeries
  • spinal surgeries
  • foot and ankle surgeries
  • knee surgeries
  • hand and finger surgeries
  • leg surgeries.

Mistakes involving surgeries on the wrong patient also occur.

The medical specialities where wrong-site surgeries are most common

Some medical specialities report more wrong-site surgeries than others.

One study found that 16% of hand surgeons reported prepping to operate on the wrong hand before noticing the error prior to incision.

A study also reported that during a 35-year career, an orthopaedic surgeon has a 25% chance of performing surgery on the wrong site.

The ten medical fields in which wrong-site surgeries are the most commonly reported (from most to least) are:

  • orthopaedic surgery
  • interventional radiology
  • ophthalmology
  • neurosurgery
  • general surgery
  • urology
  • dentistry
  • plastic surgery
  • pulmonary surgery
  • internal medicine.

Wrong-site surgeries are also reported in dermatology, gastroenterology, oncology, cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, vascular surgery, podiatry, obstetrics-gynaecology and otolaryngology.

Factors leading to wrong-site surgeries

Even a highly experienced and skilled surgeon can make a wrong-site surgery error. However, this doesn’t make the mistake acceptable.

Some of the factors that frequently contribute to wrong-site surgeries are errors on booking forms, inadequate patient verification during pre-op and missing consent or patient history forms.

Miscommunication (or poor communication) of patient information is sometimes involved – as is misreading of the information that’s provided.

Universal protocol for preventing wrong-site, wrong-procedure and wrong-person surgeries

In 2006/7, the Universal Protocol for Preventing Wrong-site, Wrong-procedure and Wrong-person Surgery was introduced by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations to help reduce incidences of wrong-site surgery.

The protocol includes measures to help avoid mistakes such as pre-op time-outs to ensure that the correct procedure is performed on the correct site and the correct patient.

It includes pre-operative verification processes to ensure patient name, procedure and limb. The patient should be physical marked on the correct site as a guide to the surgeon.

What to do if you have a wrong-site surgery claim

If you’ve been a victim of a wrong-site surgery, you should contact an attorney who specialises in medical malpractice claims.

Wrong-site surgery is never defensible, but it’s essential to prove who the responsible party is.

To win a wrong-site surgery malpractice claim, you and your legal team must gather evidence including medical and hospital records. You’ll need medical witnesses who can testify to the proper standard of care.

Medical malpractice law is complex and highly specialised. It requires legal expertise from an experienced attorney and medico-legal team.


How DSC Attorneys can help with a wrong-site surgery claim

At DSC Attorneys, we specialise in medical malpractice claims, including wrong-site surgery claims in South Africa.

Our personal injury attorneys and medico-legal team can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve. We work on a no-win, no-fee basis.

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