Analysis of clinical negligence claims following tonsillectomy in England 1995 to 2010

Rajeev Mathew, Eleni Asimacopoulos, David Walker, Tatiana Gutierrez, Peter Valentine, Lisa Pitkin
Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology 2012, 121 (5): 337-40

OBJECTIVES: We determined the characteristics of medical negligence claims following tonsillectomy.

METHODS: Claims relating to tonsillectomy between 1995 and 2010 were obtained from the National Health Service Litigation Authority database. The number of open and closed claims was determined, and data were analyzed for primary injury claimed, outcome of claim, and associated costs.

RESULTS: Over 15 years, there were 40 claims of clinical negligence related to tonsillectomy, representing 7.7% of all claims in otolaryngology. There were 34 closed claims, of which 32 (94%) resulted in payment of damages. Postoperative bleeding was the most common injury, with delayed recognition and treatment of bleeding alleged in most cases. Nasopharyngeal regurgitation as a result of soft palate fistulas or excessive tissue resection was the next-commonest cause of a claim. The other injuries claimed included dentoalveolar injury, bums, tonsillar remnants, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. Inadequate informed consent was claimed in 5 cases.

CONCLUSIONS: Clinical negligence claims following tonsillectomy have a high success rate. Although postoperative bleeding is the most common cause of negligence claims, a significant proportion of claims are due to rare complications of surgery. Informed consent should be tailored to the individual patient and should include a discussion of common and serious complications.

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