medical negligence

Ophthalmic (eye) | medical negligence claims

It is estimated there are 2 million people living with sight loss in the UK.  Our eyesight is one of our most used senses and any problems affecting it can be life changing.

If you or a family member have suffered from an eye injury as a result of medical negligence, we know that it is likely to have impacted your daily routine, mobility, enjoyment of social situations and might even have affected your career. Here Sarah Stocker,  Solicitor in Tees’ medical negligence team, identifies  some of the most common eye conditions including injuries sustained as a result of ophthalmic medical negligence.

What is ophthalmology?

Ophthalmology is a branch of medicine dealing with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases of the eye and visual system.  

Many of us find that our vision naturally gets worse over time, while others might suffer from eye conditions such as macular degeneration, cataracts or glaucoma that can have an adverse effect on our eyesight. Conditions like these can be successfully treated if they’re diagnosed early and can be managed effectively with treatment and medication, helping us to get on with our day-to-day lives

Regular eye checks can also be important to identify other conditions.  For example, a reduced visual field may be one of the first signs of a brain tumour.

Ophthalmic negligence claims

Tees’ clinical negligence team understands that when you seek advice relating to your eyesight from an optician or ophthalmic specialist, you expect professional expertise.  You depend upon their diagnosis and recommendations for management and treatment. 

Sadly, when mistakes are made by medical professionals it can result in a particularly distressing time for patients and their families alike. It can mean big changes, some of which can be expensive. You may be struggling to understand why this happened and how you are going to cope now and in the future. If you have suffered from any loss of sight as the result of   misdiagnosis, inadequate, delayed or inappropriate treatment, you could be able to claim compensation.

Clinical negligence claims for ophthalmic negligence are highly specialist.  Tees Ophthalmic specialists work alongside some of the leading medico-legal experts in the country and have all received visual awareness training from Support4Sight.  

Examples of ophthalmic negligence claims:

  • Failure to give appropriate advice on the risks, benefits and other treatment options 
  • Cataract, corneal or vitreo-retinal surgery accidents
  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of  high blood pressure in the eyes and glaucoma
  • Delay in diagnosis and treatment of Giant Cell Arteritis 
  • Misdiagnosis / failure to diagnose ophthalmic conditions such as retinal detachment or Acute Angle Glaucoma
  • Failure to diagnose, monitor and/ or treat ophthalmic diseases such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy
  • Failure to identify of investigate a visual field defect / compression of the optic nerve leading to a delayed diagnosis of a brain tumour
  • Inappropriate or delayed ophthalmic treatment
  • Misdiagnosis of eye conditions;
  • Failure to diagnose and/or treat Retinopathy of Prematurity
  • Misdiagnosis or failed diagnosis of paediatric (children’s) ophthalmology 
  • Surgical accidents, including problems with laser surgery;
  • Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis of malignancy (Cancerous cells)

If you would like legal advice relating to your medical negligence claim, talk to us today

Description of common eye condition and diagnosis  

Age-related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a problem with the macula that causes sight distortion or loss to central vision. It usually first affects people in their 50s and 60s. It is not painful, and it doesn't typically result in total sight loss but, without treatment, vision may get worse. This can happen gradually over several years ("dry AMD"), or quickly over a few weeks or months ("wet AMD").

The exact causes of AMD are unknown but certain factors are thought to increase your chances of developing AMD such as smoking, sunlight, age and gender.

Sometimes AMD may be found during a routine optician’s appointment; a specialist called an optometrist will look at the back of your eye and may refer you to an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) or specialist AMD service. This is usually only necessary if there's a possibility you'll need to start treatment quickly. 

You may have more tests, such as a scan of the back of your eyes.

Treatment for Wet AMD includes injections.  These injections typically do not improve sight but arrest further deterioration. 

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the Retina.  The blood vessels may swell and leak blood or fluid, or larger blood vessels may become blocked causing new, very weak blood vessels to grow in the wrong place on the retina. In very advanced cases, the retina can become detached.

Anyone with diabetes who is 12 years old or over is invited for eye screening once a year in the UK. Early signs of the condition can be picked up by taking photographs of the eyes during diabetic eye screening. This screening can detect problems in your eyes before they start to affect your vision. If problems are caught early, treatment can help prevent or reduce vision loss.

It can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated.

Cataracts

Cataracts are when the lens of your eye, a small transparent disc, develops cloudy patches. Many people over 60 have some degree of cataracts and the vast majority can be treated successfully. 

The most common type of cataract is age-related cataract and they develop as people get older. In younger people cataracts can result from conditions such as diabetes, certain medications and other longstanding eye problems. Cataracts can also be present at birth. These are called congenital cataracts.

Cataract surgery is usually a straightforward procedure that takes 30 to 45 minutes. It's often carried out as day surgery under local anaesthetic and you go home on the same day.

During the operation, the surgeon will make a tiny cut in your eye to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a clear plastic one.

The risk of serious complications developing as a result of cataract surgery is very low. Most common complications can be treated with medicines or further surgery. There is a very small risk – around 1 in 1,000 – of permanent sight loss in the treated eye as a direct result of the operation.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a common eye condition which causes damage to the optic nerve. This damage can be caused by increased pressure in the eye damaging the optic nerve, or by a weakened optic nerve, or often by a combination of the two.

This high pressure in the eye is not linked to blood pressure. It is caused when drainage channels in the eye become blocked and there is a build-up of fluid in the eye.

There are different types of Glaucoma depending upon the speed at which the drainage channels become blocked or whether another eye condition has caused the Glaucoma. In very rare cases babies can have Glaucoma caused by a malformation of the eye.

Glaucoma can develop very slowly and may be symptom-free at first. Left to develop untreated it can cause loss of your side (peripheral) vision leaving you only able to see things directly in front of you (tunnel vision).

Early treatment can help stop your vision becoming severely affected.  There are several quick and painless tests that can be carried out by an optometrist if they suspect you have glaucoma after a routine eye test: Eye pressure test, gonioscopy (examination to look at  the front part of your eye), visual field test and optic nerve assessment.

If Glaucoma is picked up during an eye test, you should be referred to a specialist eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for further tests. They will confirm your diagnosis and advice on further treatment.

Retinitis Pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a genetic disorder of the eyes that causes loss of vision. The first symptoms include trouble seeing at night and decreased peripheral vision (side vision). As peripheral vision worsens, people may experience "tunnel vision". Complete blindness is uncommon.

In approximately half of all cases (50 to 60%) there are other family members with RP. 

The methods of treatment include gene therapy, stem cell therapy and visual prothesis. But all these methods own limitations and cannot be conquered in a short period.

First patients began gene therapy treatment for blindness as part of NHS Long Term Plan.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) is a relatively common condition among people who have lost their sight. It causes people who have lost a lot of their vision to see things that aren't there, known as visual hallucinations.

CBS can be distressing but the hallucinations are usually transient and last for a short period of time. Many people experience periodical hallucinations for a year to eighteen months before they become a lot less frequent.

There is no treatment for Charles Bonnet syndrome. Simply understanding that the hallucinations are a normal consequence of vision loss, rather than a mental health problem, can be very reassuring and help the person cope better.

No specific medication has been shown to stop hallucinations caused by Charles Bonnet syndrome, although some medications designed to treat epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and dementia have proved effective for some people.

However, these powerful medications can have serious side effects and are therefore only recommended for people who are severely affected and under close supervision.

How we can help

We understand that complaining about medical treatment can feel daunting and overwhelming, but there are many good reasons for raising concerns about the standard of care and treatment you have received and where there are concerns that something has gone wrong, a claim for negligence.

Eye injury compensation awards vary depending on the degree and severity of the visual loss suffered as a result of any negligence and the help and support needed as a result. Tees’ clinical negligence team work to make sure the compensation reflects the damage caused by negligent eye treatment and your current and future condition. 

Compensation can cover the costs of:

  • Any long-term care costs
  • Specialist equipment – such as visual aids, walking sticks, home adaptations
  • Further treatment from an ophthalmology expert
  • Expenses – for travel costs to treatment and therapy appointments
  • Loss of earnings – up to retirement age in the most severe instances
  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering

If you have suffered a loss of vision as a result of substandard care and need compensation to help you move forward, then you should consider bringing a medical negligence claim.

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