Causes of cataract surgery malpractice claims in England 1995-2008

Nadeem Ali, Brian C Little
British Journal of Ophthalmology 2011, 95 (4): 490-2

AIMS: To analyse the causes of malpractice claims related specifically to cataract surgery in the National Health Service in England from 1995 to 2008.

METHODS: All the malpractice claims related to cataract surgery from 1995 to 2008 from the National Health Service Litigation Authority were analysed. Claims were classified according to causative problem. Total numbers of claims, total value of damages, mean level damages and paid:closed ratio (a measure of the likelihood of a claim resulting in payment of damages) were determined for each cause.

RESULTS: Over the 14-year period, there were 324 cataract surgery claims with total damages of £ 1.97 million and mean damages for a paid claim of £ 19,900. Negligent surgery (including posterior capsule tear and dropped nucleus) was the most frequent cause for claims, while reduced vision accounted for the highest total and mean damages. Claims relating to biometry errors/wrong intraocular lens power were the second most frequent cause of claims and result in payment of damages in 62% of closed cases. The claims with the highest paid:closed ratio were inadequate anaesthetic (75%) and complications of anaesthetic injections including globe perforation (67%).

CONCLUSIONS: Claims from cataract surgery in the NHS are extremely infrequent. Consent, though essential, may not prevent a claim arising or resulting in damages. Refractive accuracy has significant medicolegal impact. Endophthalmitis can lead to successful claims if there is delay in diagnosis. Claims relating to inadequate anaesthesia or anaesthetic injection complications are particularly hard to defend.

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