Needle stick accident - medical case study

...the patient's son was found sitting on the floor of the consulting room with his hand in a sharps box...

A GP's surgery was used once a month for an antenatal clinic. The clinic was staffed by community midwives employed by the Health Board concerned. Neither the GP nor practice staff were involved in the day-to-day running of the clinic other than referring patients to it as an alternative to travelling to the local hospital.

One of the GP's patients attended the antenatal clinic accompanied by her two-year-old son. Following her examination by the midwife, the patient's son was found sitting on the floor of the consulting room with his hand in a sharps box. He had sustained a needle stick injury. The child was subsequently tested for HIV, hepatitis etc. All tests proved negative.

The child's parents sued for damages alleging that the child had been traumatised by the tests which were done and now had a fear of doctors and hospitals. They also alleged that they themselves had been subject to great stress and anxiety whilst awaiting the results of the relevant blood tests. As a result the father had been unable to work for 4 months. The sum sued for was £55,000.

Analysis and outcome

GPs have statutory responsibilities as the occupiers of premises to ensure that those who enter the premises do not suffer injury. The responsibility to provide a safe system of work remained despite the GP having no practical input to the clinic or how it was conducted.

Liability could not be contested and the claim was settled for a small sum. Fifty percent was met by MDDUS on behalf of the GP and fifty percent by the midwife's employer as she also had a responsibility to conduct the clinic in a safe way and should have ensured the sharps box was out of reach of the child.

Key points

  • GP responsibilities extend beyond purely clinical duties.
  • Health and Safety policies—are they adequate, up to date and enforced?
  • Always complete a contemporaneous and comprehensive incident report.
  • Periodic inspection of premises for injury risks can prevent accidents and claims.