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Clinical error leads to oesophageal rupture.

A woman who suffered a ruptured oesophagus during emergency medical treatment and who subsequently spent 50 days in an intensive care unit has been awarded £15,000 in compensation.

The claimant had attended hospital after vomiting blood and feeling weak. It emerged that she had  oesophageal gastric varices. This is a dilation of several veins in the stomach that can cause life threatening blood loss. The treating clinicians decided that a Sengstaken tube should be inserted into our client to control the bleeding. The tube works by inflating a small balloon which creates pressure against the varices to reduce the blood loss.

In this instance, and contrary to the correct procedure, the balloon was inflated while it was still in the oesophagus. The pressure created by the inflation ruptured the claimant’s oesophagus. This required emergency treatment with an intercostal drain.

This was a complex case. The Claimant's underlying condition was potentially life threatening. Clearly, immediate intervention was warranted. Nevertheless there were clinical issues surrounding the point at which the balloon was inflated. Had it been correctly inflated in the stomach rather than the oesophagus then the rupture could have been avoided.

A further issue that arose in this case was the length of the stay in the Intensive Care Unit. The Claimant's underlying condition required long term monitoring and assessment. It was initially unclear whether the extensive ITU support was as a result of the varices or the oesophageal rupture. Although this did not impact upon liability it did have a potential impact upon the level of compensation.

Medical experts investigating the claim found that the ruptured oesophagus did not extend the claimants recovery in the ICU and as such the compensation was limited to damages for the injury itself.

A spokesperson for the CNCI team commented on the case: "We are pleased to have reached a successful conclusion in this matter. This was obviously a challenging and complex case. It can be difficult in clinical negligence claims to distinguish between the effects of serious underlying illness and the consequences of clinical errors".