I recently found out that a safety pin had been left in me following a C-section operation and my friend says that I can claim for a foreign object left in a patient. Is this right?

Eoin P. Campbell, LL.B., Solicitor

Editor in Chief

Eoin P. Campbell

You would only usually be eligible to claim for a foreign object left in a patient if you have suffered an “adverse reaction” or diagnosed injury due to the presence of the safety pin. However, due to the nature of the foreign object and the danger it presents to your health, a doctor would usually recommend that you undergo surgery to have the foreign object removed – thus having to go through an “unnecessary” surgical procedure which will cause you some pain and from which there will be a recovery period during which you may be unable to work or enjoy your regular lifestyle.

Although this may entitle you to compensation for a retained surgical item, how much you can claim for a foreign object left in a patient is going to depend on your personal circumstances, the location of the safety pin and the difficulty involved in extracting it. There will also have to an HSE investigation to confirm that the safety pin was left behind during your C-section operation and that it was an avoidable error which “at the time and in the circumstances” was attributable to medical negligence.

Although there is no defence against a safety pin being left behind after an operation, the process for claiming compensation for a retained surgical item can be long-winded and you should discuss with a solicitor whether it is worth your while to proceed with a claim for a foreign object left in a patient when the complaints procedure can take many months to resolve.

To give you some idea of what you may be entitled to include in a claim for compensation for a retained surgical item, a solicitor would usually look at four main areas:-

  • What injury has been caused? Unless your GP has discovered an “adverse reaction” to the safety pin being left behind after an operation, your “injury” will be just the inconvenience of a surgical procedure to remove the foreign object which, depending on its location, may only be a day patient procedure.
  • Was there any psychological trauma? It is obviously distressing to find out that a safety pin has been inside of you for all this time and that it pose a risk of an internal injury, but unless you have suffered an emotional trauma which can be supported by a psychiatrist´s diagnosis, it is unlikely you will be able include this element in your claim.
  • What difference has the safety pin made to your quality of life? From the tone of your question, probably none; although you will undoubtedly suffer some loss of amenity following the surgical procedure to remove the foreign object.
  • What financial costs have you incurred? Again, probably none related to the original medical negligence, although you will be able to recover any expenses relating to the procedure to remove the safety pin and be reimbursed for any loss of income due to having to take time off from work.

Not all of these factors will apply in every claim for a foreign object left in a patient and there may be others which are unique to your personal situation. Therefore, it would be in your best interests to speak with a solicitor at your earliest opportunity to explain your personal circumstances, discuss whether you should proceed with a claim for compensation and the procedures that need to be completed to ensure a satisfactory conclusion to your claim.