Personal Views

We should look at complaints again

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 16 August 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:434
  1. Graham Neale, retired physician
  1. Cambridge

    Twenty years ago I was called to the casualty department to see an unconscious 38 year old man with a rigid abdomen. He was scarcely breathing. His blood pressure was unrecordable. After several hours' resuscitation the duty surgeon opened the abdomen and repaired a perforation. The patient survived but was left with irreversible neurological damage. During the 24 hours before admission he had been seen on two occasions by different doctors working for the emergency service. One diagnosed dyspepsia; the other constipation. Both doctors administered opiates and the patient was left in the care of his wife who finally dialled 999. The man was self employed and his wife and five children were left in straitened circumstances. A year later his wife asked if I would provide a statement for her solicitors as she wished to make a claim. After a further three years the case went to the High Court. I expected to be asked to describe quite simply my findings and to be questioned on the dangers of giving opiates to a patient with an …

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