Breast surgery patient not told she had contracted superbug

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

A plastic surgeon failed to tell a patient she had contracted the superbug MRSA following breast reduction surgery, the Health and Disability Commission has found.

According to the finding released today, the woman had been worried about post-operative infection before the surgery.

She discussed her concerns with the surgeon, who allayed her fears and gave her confidence to proceed with the operation.

After the operation the woman developed infections in her wounds. She telephoned the plastic surgeon's clinic and advised a nurse that she was nauseous and feeling hot and cold.

The plastic surgeon instructed the woman to discontinue her antibiotics. The woman continued to feel ill and became increasingly concerned.

She visited the clinic and consulted with the plastic surgeon and/or his nurse five times over a two-week period.

During that time, the woman was prescribed an oral antibiotic, an antibiotic ointment, and swabs of her wounds were taken.

The swabs cultured Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Staphylococcus aureus.

There was no evidence the woman was informed she had MRSA, or that her GP was informed, the commission found.

The woman returned to the clinic the following week, and the plastic surgeon reviewed her wound and instructed her to return in another three weeks.

When the woman phoned the clinic two and a half weeks later, she was told the plastic surgeon was not available and referred to the district nurse, who was not advised the woman had MRSA.

Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill found the plastic surgeon breached the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights in several respects.

He should have reviewed the woman more closely when it was known that her wound swab had cultured MRSA, and should have informed her GP and the district nurse to ensure that the woman's ongoing care was co-ordinated.

The surgeon should also have informed the woman of the results of the swabs and that she had MRSA.

Furthermore, the plastic surgeon's record-keeping was incomplete and inadequate.

Mr Hill also commented that, in attempting to allay the woman's concerns about the procedure, the plastic surgeon may have understated the risk of infection.

It was recommended that he review his practice and take greater care when discussing the risks of surgery with future patients.

- APNZ

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