Medical Negligent Treatment of Broken Bones
When you break a bone, it will usually start to heal straight away. A bone is a living tissue, and given time a fractured bone will heal itself. It is important however that the bone heals in the correct position.
When a patient is diagnosed with a fracture, a doctor will try to reduce a patient’s pain and make them as comfortable as possible until the fracture heals. They should also take steps to manage the fracture in such a way that allows joint movement to be regained as best as possible.
If the bone is misaligned the doctor will have to decide whether to treat the fracture conservatively such as in plaster or carry out surgery or some form of manipulation of the bone to realign it.
When deciding the most appropriate treatment option the doctor will have to take into account a number of different factors in addition to the nature and severity of the fracture. For example your age and general health will be an important factor. Patients who are old or frail may not be able to undergo an anaesthetic or surgery. Other patients will be able to undergo surgery.
The same fracture may therefore be treated differently depending on the health and circumstances of the person who has suffered the fracture.
The doctor has a duty to discuss each treatment option with you, explaining the usual risks and benefits of each, so that you can be involved in making the decision of how to treat the fracture and can properly consent to any treatment going forward.
If the doctor fails to discuss the treatment options with you fully then you may have a claim for compensation.
A fracture will often require no medical intervention whatsoever if the bones that have fractured are in alignment.
In many cases, the fractured bone can be held in the correct position by methods such as a plaster cast or sling.
Also, some fractures will be deliberately left untreated. Fractures of small bones (such as toes) or ribs often do not need medical intervention, as they will heal on their own.
Sometimes the fractured sections of bone must be realigned before the break mends, otherwise it is possible that it will heal in the wrong position.
A fracture is usually still mobile for two weeks after the fracture occurs. During that time, the alignment of the fracture can be altered by manipulation from a medical professional.
It is important this realignment takes place as it is very unlikely the bone will knit together in the correct place leaving a patient with reduced function.
Sometimes, depending on the type and location of the break surgery may be necessary to insert metal plates or pins into the bone to keep the parts of the broken bone aligned.
After two weeks the bone glue (bone callus) begins to form. Even at this stage it is still relatively easy to move the bone apart, although this procedure will usually need a general anaesthetic.
A surgeon usually has up to three weeks to realign a fracture and not cause any long term functional problems. After three weeks there may be a small loss of movement in the limb although usually alignment of the bone will be achieved.
By six weeks the fracture will usually be united and it will not be so easy to put the pieces back together as they were before the break, although even then it is fairly straightforward to re-open the fracture and realign it.
After six weeks, the fracture has really united and the new bone has formed. At this stage the only way to realign the fracture is to formally re-fracture it.
If the fracture is left untreated for longer than six weeks the bone is likely to unite poorly. This will result in you having significantly reduced function in the limb, increased pain and suffering and may require surgery to realign the bone. It is possible that even after undergoing surgery you may be unable to regain full function.
Missed or Misdiagnosed Fractures
Sometimes a fractured bone will be missed by the hospital and may go untreated. This may be because an x-ray was not carried out or an x-ray is performed but the medical practitioner does not identify the fracture on the x-ray. Sometimes fractures can be difficult to spot and it is not always negligent for a doctor to miss a fracture on an x-ray.
Doctors will not only base their diagnosis of a fracture on x-rays but will also consider the circumstances in which you have suffered the injury (such as a fall or a sporting injury). They will also carry out an examination of you looking for symptoms that may suggest a fracture such as:
If a fracture is suspected, then the doctor will usually request an x-ray.
If a broken bone is missed and left untreated, not only will you have increased pain and suffering, but it is possible the fracture will heal incorrectly. It may then be necessary for you to have an operation to reposition the bone.
Medical Negligence Claim
If you have suffered a poor result from negligent treatment of a broken bone you may be able to recover compensation.
Whether the medical practitioner has been negligent will depend on whether the treatment you received was to a standard that could reasonably have been expected. The practitioner would have a defence to your claim for medical negligence if the treatment you received was in line with the views of a responsible body of medical opinion.
You also need to prove that your injuries would not have occurred if it were not for the negligence of the medical practitioner. In some cases the poor outcome may have occurred anyway for example if it was a particularly bad break.
At some stage in your claim it will be necessary to obtain a medical report from a medical expert. This is to advise whether the treatment provided was negligent and whether the poor outcome would have occurred anyway even if the negligent treatment had not taken place.
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Pleas note that you only have 3 years to issue Court Proceedings from the date you first knew, or could reasonably have been expected to know, that you have suffered an injury caused by the fault of a medical practitioner .
This could be the date of the mistake or some time late if you did not know you had been injured at the time the mistake was made.
If Court Proceedings are not issued within 3 years of that date you would usually be unable to pursue your claim further. The Courts can however waive this 3-year time limit if it can be shown that there was a valid reason why you did not pursue the claim sooner.