In April 2008, a young boy was admitted to the country’s leading Children’s Hospital, to undergo surgery to have his defective right kidney removed. It later emerged that his healthy left kidney had been removed in error. An independent review of the case, identified 10 contributory factors which led to this terrible blunder. It was described as “an accident waiting to happen”. A medical council fitness to practice inquiry is now under way into allegations of professional misconduct against two doctors over the removal of the wrong kidney.
The parents of the 6 year old boy attended the fitness to practice inquiry last week, to tell their story in the hope that it would help to prevent this tragedy occurring again. The mother told the inquiry that her son was referred to the hospital for treatment following recurrent kidney infections. An ultrasound scan had revealed that the child’s left kidney was functioning normally while his right kidney was small, with only 9 percent function. The mother was told by the consultant surgeon at the hospital that her son would need his poorly functioning right kidney removed but then the surgeon incorrectly noted in the hospital chart that the left kidney was the one to be removed. This was the first in a series of errors which unfortunately led to the wrong kidney being removed.
The first the parents knew of the wrong kidney being listed for surgery, was when consent was sought for the operation. The parents have told the inquiry that while they felt embarrassed for questioning if the doctors were right, they persisted in asking hospital staff to double check their facts. A hospital spokesperson has confirmed that the parents repeatedly raised concerns and questioned if the correct kidney was being removed, up to and including the time of handover to the operating theatre.
This tragic case is not only every parent’s nightmare, it’s probably every doctor’s nightmare as well. It raises many important questions about the issue of doctors working under too much pressure in a hospital system that is stretched to the limits. The concerns voiced by this child’s parents, should have been enough to alert hospital staff to the fact that something was wrong. Has our health service really become so automated, impersonal and intimidating that parent’s/patient’s concerns don’t count any more? Surely, if any parent raises a concern about their child’s treatment, they deserve to have their concerns properly addressed before being expected to hand over the care of their child?
If one lesson is to be learnt from this terrible tragedy, it is that we as parents/patients should never hesitate to question medical care especially when something doesn’t add up.
We could be doing ourselves a real favour. The hearing is due to continue in September.