The MDU assisted a member who faced a claim after administering co-amoxiclav to a patient who was allergic to penicillin.

This example is a fictitious account of a typical case based on events in actual claims handled by the MDU claims handling team.

The scene

An MDU anaesthetist contacted the MDU after receiving a complaint from a patient. The patient had been admitted for an elective laparoscopic cholecystectomy, and had been given a single dose of prophylactic intravenous co-amoxiclav by the anaesthetist.

Unfortunately, the patient had a documented penicillin allergy, and had an allergic reaction. Following advice from the MDU, the anaesthetist responded to the complaint, apologising for the error.

However, a year later, the anaesthetist contacted the MDU again, having had a letter from a firm of solicitors instructed by the patient requesting copies of his private medical records. The member didn't hold any private records for the patient; these were all held by the private hospital where the procedure had been carried out, and therefore the solicitors were re­directed by the MDU to the hospital.

MDU response

The MDU claims handler felt it was very likely that formal allegations would be made against the anaesthetist member, and so obtained all the medical records for the claimant at an early stage. The claims handler also met with the member to explain the claims process, and go through the sequence of events that had led to the drug error.

A few months later, a letter of claim was received alleging that antibiotic prophylaxis in routine laparoscopic cholecystectomy is not required, and that even if it was reasonable to use prophylaxis, it was negligent to administer co-amoxiclav to a patient with a known penicillin allergy. It was also alleged that as a result of the administration of co-amoxiclav, the claimant had suffered an allergic reaction, and had developed anxiety and depression which required prolonged time off work.

Responding to the letter, the MDU instructed an independent anaesthetics expert for an opinion, who stated that it was a breach of duty of care to administer co-amoxiclav to a patient with a known penicillin allergy. In the letter of response, and with the member's permission, the MDU admitted that the co-amoxiclav should not have been administered given the known allergy, and apologised again to the claimant.

The MDU also instructed a psychiatry expert to assess the psychiatric element of the claim. The resulting report concluded that the claimant was suffering from anxiety and depression related to the incident, and treatment with antidepressants and a course of cognitive behavioural therapy was recommended.

It was felt that over the next 18 months to two years, the claimant's psychiatric condition would improve, and he would be able to return to work, although he would remain at risk of relapse in the future - in particular if he developed problems with his physical health that might require hospital treatment.

The outcome

With the member's agreement, the MDU settled the claim, paying damages of £150,000. The majority of this related to the loss of earnings claim, but included allowance for future psychiatric care. The claimant's legal costs were an additional £45,000.

This page was correct at publication on 20/10/2020. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.