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What is surgery?

Surgery or a surgical procedure (operation) is medical treatment in which instruments are used to remove or repair a damaged or diseased part of the body. Operations often involve the surgeon making an incision (cut), suturing (stitching) or physically manipulating parts of the body. They can involve fixing or grafting, removing, tying (ligating) or merely examining structures within the body, depending on the purpose of the operation.

During surgery the patient will need either local or general anaesthetic, ventilation (using a ventilator machine to help them breathe whilst under general anaesthetic). They may need support with managing their blood flow (perfusion) if the operation is on their heart.  They also need careful monitoring of important indicators of their general condition, such as their heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels. These supportive measures keep them safe whilst the operation takes place.

Medication may be needed before, during or after the procedure, for example, to protect the patient from infection or to prevent blood clots (thrombosis) if they are known to be at risk. Scans may be used before or during the procedure to help locate the part needing surgery and protect the surrounding area.

Whilst surgery is often needed to help treat or investigate illness in a patient who is already ill, surgical patients are entitled to:

  • clear and thorough personalised information about the operation, its risks and its benefits;
  • safe and effective anaesthetic;
  • safe surgical technique;
  • appropriate management of their health before, during and after the operation;
  • appropriate management of complications.

Where a patient is harmed by negligent handling of the diagnosis and consent processes, or their anaesthetic, surgical or surrounding healthcare management, they may be entitled to claim compensation.

Our experienced medical negligence solicitors have helped seriously injured clients recover compensation following negligent NHS and private surgical care for over 30 years.

Types of surgery

When a medical condition needs surgical treatment, the urgency, severity and type of injury or condition will affect the way in which the operation is carried out. Each type of surgery has its own benefits and risks to the patient.

  • Day surgery is carried out in one day, without the patient having to stay in hospital.
  • Keyhole surgery is performed through very small incisions in a patient's skin. The surgeon operates using instruments inserted through a tube which has a fibre optic light on the end. Keyhole surgery is often carried out as day surgery.
  • When keyhole surgery takes place in the abdominal area, it may also be known as laparoscopic surgery.
  • Open surgery takes place through a bigger incision (cut) than keyhole surgery. This gives the surgeon more space to operate and to see the area within the body on which he is operating but open procedures need stitching and take longer to heal. The patient may need longer hospital admission.
  • Microsurgery procedures use extremely small instruments and powerful magnifying devices, to operate on tiny structures within the body, such as nerves, the bones in the ear, inside the eye or small arteries.
  • Elective surgery is where the operation is planned in advance.
  • Emergency surgery has not been planned but is needed for medical emergencies where the patient needs immediate admission to hospital. The operation may take place immediately or during the night where the patient has a serious or life-threatening condition but usually takes place within 24 hours.

What counts as informed consent?

The risks to the patient of surgery and anaesthesia must all be considered and managed carefully and discussed with the patient so that they have enough information to give their consent. When deciding whether to consent to medical treatment, patients must be informed of what the treatment involves, any reasonable alternatives, and ‘all material risks’ of the proposed treatment.

This means that the patient is entitled to be properly informed and make their own decision, even where:

  • there is only a small risk of a poor outcome or side effect;
  • the doctor thinks the risk doesn’t justify refusing treatment.

If the patient would consider the risk to be significant enough to affect their own decision, they are entitled to know about it before giving (or refusing) consent. If this information is withheld, the patient has not given ‘informed consent’. If the patient is then harmed during treatment, they may be entitled to claim compensation for their injury.

If a patient lacks the mental capacity to make their own decisions, consent is often sought from a proxy, such as a parent if the treatment is for a child. In these circumstances, the doctor must act in the patient’s best interests.

The patient’s signature on the consent form alone is not conclusive evidence that informed consent was given. The court will also take into account other evidence of the conversation which took place when the patient was asked to give consent, such as the doctor’s record of the conversation in the medical notes.

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What mistakes can lead to surgical negligence compensation claims?

Where a negligent mistake before, during or after surgery causes serious injury which would have been avoided with correct care, the patient may be entitled to claim compensation for that injury and its consequences.

Surgical negligence claims often arise from:

  • misdiagnosis leading to unnecessary surgery;
  • inadequate pre-operative risk assessment, warnings and consent;
  • delays in operating;
  • negligent care before, during and after the operation;
  • negligent surgical technique;
  • perfusion (blood flow) errors;
  • wrong site surgery;
  • anaesthetic errors, including:
    • incorrect intubation (insertion of the tube for breathing purposes);
    • anaesthetic failure and awareness;
    • anaphylaxis (a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction).

Our experienced clinical negligence solicitors have recovered substantial damages awards for clients injured by surgical negligence which caused:

  • spinal cord injury;
  • nerve injury;
  • arterial damage leading to amputation;
  • serious injury from unrecognised haematoma (internal bleeding);
  • serious complications of bile duct injury;
  • bowel injury, peritonitis and sepsis;
  • disability from negligent hip and knee replacement surgery;
  • cardiac arrest and/or brain injury from oxygen deprivation, anaesthetic negligence and perfusion errors;
  • sepsis and other severe complications from post-operative infection;
  • complications of aortic aneurysm.
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Meet your team

Susan Brown


Richard Money-Kyrle


Julie Marsh

Senior associate - solicitor

Vanessa Wand

Senior associate - solicitor

Nicola Anderson

Associate - solicitor

Rachel Makore

Associate - solicitor

Alpa Rana

Associate - solicitor

Fran Rothwell

Associate solicitor

Sita Soni

Associate - solicitor

Tara Byrne


Ben Ireland


Audrey Elmore

Medical records coordinator

Nicky Melville

Professional support assistant

How much compensation can you get for medical negligence?
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Surgery negligence cases

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