Can I claim compensation for a sponge left inside a patient during an operation which was later misdiagnosed as a bowel tumour?

Eoin P. Campbell, LL.B., Solicitor

Editor in Chief

Eoin P. Campbell

In order to be eligible to claim compensation for a sponge left inside a patient during an operation, two conditions that have to be met. First it has to be proven that you sustained an injury due to medical negligence; and secondly, you must have become aware of the injury in the past two years to be within the Statute of Limitations for claiming compensation for a retained surgical sponge.

A retained surgical sponge – or one which has been left behind after an operation – is often referred to in medical terms as a ‘gossypiboma’ and the consequences of a gossypiboma can range from harmless to life-threatening depending on the sponge´s size and location.

There is no doubt that you have suffered some level of injury due to the fact that you attended your doctor with the symptoms of a bowel tumour, and there can be no defence against a claim for a gossypiboma on the grounds that “in the circumstances and at the time” the retained surgical sponge was an unavoidable occurrence.

Provided that the correct diagnosis of a gossypiboma was made within the past two years, you should be eligible to claim compensation for a sponge left inside a patient during an operation; however, it would be advisable to discuss the sequence of events with an experienced medical negligence at the earliest possible opportunity.

Your claim for a gossypiboma will involve an HSE investigation and, as it may have been many years ago that the original error occurred, it would be beneficial if a “Letter of Complaint” is submitted to the HSE as soon as possible. Furthermore, as your claim for compensation for a retained surgical sponge also includes a misdiagnosis of bowel cancer, the circumstances of the misdiagnosis will also have to be investigated.

Once negligence is established, the calculation of compensation for a sponge left inside a patient during an operation is also likely to be complicated. Depending on your personal circumstances, you may be able to include in your claim for a gossypiboma:-

  • Compensation for the physical pain of your symptoms which were misdiagnosed as a bowel tumour,
  • Compensation for the emotional trauma you undoubtedly sustained when the misdiagnosis of a bowel tumour was made, and
  • Compensation for the trauma you still have to go through to have the retained surgical sponge removed.

You will also be able to recover any expenses you have incurred due to seeking medical treatment for your injuries – both physical and psychological – and loss of income you have experienced due to the medical error, both now and during the operation to remove the gossypiboma.

No claim for medical negligence compensation is straightforward, but this claim for compensation for a retained surgical sponge seems particularly complex. Consequently, as mentioned above, it is advisable that you speak with an experience medical negligence solicitor as soon as you can.