medical negligence

Misdiagnosed ectopic pregnancy resulted in emergency major surgery

Woman holding her side as if in pain

Carol suffered a ruptured ectopic pregnancy after her symptoms were wrongly treated as a urinary tract infection.

Gwyneth Munjoma, solicitor in Tees’ clinical negligence team, helped her client to pursue a claim against the NHS Trust after her fallopian tube ruptured and had to be removed.

Carol and David were ecstatic when they discovered that she was pregnant. Like most modern-day women, to avoid any doubt and in a bit of disbelief, Carol carried out a few home pregnancy tests which were all positive. Things were going well until Carol was about 4-5 weeks pregnant. Out of the blue, she developed very severe pain in her lower tummy on the right side, her right shoulder tip and her rib cage. Her tummy also felt very bloated. Worried about this, Carol immediately attended A&E at her local hospital where she clearly described her symptoms and informed the triage nurse and the doctors that she was about 4 -5 weeks pregnant.

Sent home without adequate advice

Despite having no signs or symptoms of a urine infection, Carol was advised that she most likely had a urinary tract infection. The doctors completely ignored the fact that she was pregnant so failed to consider that the symptoms she had could be of an ectopic pregnancy (ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilised egg attaches itself somewhere outside of the womb (usually in the fallopian tube) and begins to grow).  Carol was discharged home on a course of oral antibiotics with an extra course of antibiotics to take if after completing the first course the “urinary tract infection” did not resolve. Carol was not given any advice about watching out for the symptoms of ectopic pregnancy and returning to be checked if the antibiotics did not resolve her symptoms.

At home, Carol took the antibiotics as prescribed but continued to experience the same amount of pain. As advised by the A & E doctor when her pain did not resolve after completing the first course of antibiotics, she went on to take the second course of antibiotics.

HSIB found that a failure to adequately escalate care in pregnant mothers was a recurring theme in their 2021/22 Maternity Investigations.

With the symptoms that Carol had described, it is expected that a referral to a specialist early pregnancy assessment clinic and an ultrasound scan to confirm her pregnancy plus follow up blood tests every 48 hours would have been arranged 

About two weeks later Carol suddenly experienced excruciating pain in her tummy, and pain in her ribs and shoulder. She felt nauseous, went pale and was shivering and sweating. Painkillers did not relieve her pain. She made an emergency appointment with her GP who suspected a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. The GP immediately arranged for an ambulance and Carol was blue lighted to a hospital different from the one she had originally attended. At the hospital, Carol was informed that she had suffered a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, was in a state of shock and needed to be operated on immediately. She was rushed to the operating theatre where severe bleeding in her tummy obstructed the surgeon’s view. The keyhole surgery was therefore turned into an open tummy operation. Her fallopian tube was removed, and she required a blood transfusion. 

Carol found herself in a frightening and life-threatening emergency. She was devastated not only to have lost her much awaited baby, but also her fallopian tube, potentially affecting her future fertility.   

How we helped

Carol and David contacted our medical negligence team as despite starting to process and recover from their traumatic experience they found themselves questioning the quality of care and attention Carol had been given by the healthcare professionals who had attended to her.

Gwyneth Munjoma, solicitor in Tees’ clinical negligence team, Tees Saidlooking at Carol’s situation,  I wanted to help Carol and David understand what had gone wrong and how her care could have been better, in the hope that lessons would be learned from Carol’s experiences and that no one else would face the same situation that she had in the future”

Carol made a complaint against the NHS Trust which was upheld. 

Gwyneth gathered evidence and sought independent expert medical advice to support Carol’s claim. The independent medical expert advice as to the standard of care and treatment that Carol ought to have received which would have saved her fallopian tube. The expert further advised that if Carol had been given proper care and treatment, not only would her fallopian tube have been saved but also that she would have avoided the major surgery and the life-threatening situation that she found herself in.   

A legal claim was then made against the NHS Trust. In response, the Trust admitted full liability for the substandard care accorded to Carol and the consequences of that substandard care.

Gwyneth negotiated a settlement for Carol who received enough compensation to enable her to access treatment to help her come to terms with what had happened and to positively plan for her future.   

The care that Carol received raised several questions and the Trust’s early admission of liability was a welcome acknowledgement of what had gone wrong with the care given to Carol. 

Caring and sensitive support with Tees

Whatever your situation, our legal specialists are here to help guide you. Our expert clinical negligence lawyers will handle your ectopic pregnancy misdiagnosis claim from the initial consultation through to financial settlement. 

*All names changed for confidentiality

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Chat to the Author, Gwyneth Munjoma

Senior Associate, Medical Negligence, Chelmsford office

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