Given the strict protocols that surgeons are required to follow during operations, you wouldn’t think there would be much room for error. Unfortunately, though, surgical errors happen more regularly than you might imagine. Also, surgical errors occur more often during routine procedures than during less common and more complex surgeries.

According to a study conducted at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, surgical errors occur on average 4,000 times per year in North America. Based on malpractice claims, over 80,000 cases were reported between 1990 and 2010.

In countries like South Africa, we don’t have reliable statistics, but it’s alarming to guess how they might compare with the American statistics, which are already horrifying.

Here we consider the five most common surgical errors.

Leaving foreign objects inside patients

Leaving a foreign object – such as a scalpel, gauze, clamps or pads – inside the body of a patient is the most common surgical error. It can lead to serious infections and even death.

Operating on the wrong side

It sounds nightmarish, but it has happened – surgeons have accidentally operated on the wrong side of a patient’s body. For example, cases have been recorded of surgeons removing a left kidney instead of the right. This type of mistake can have devastating and even fatal consequences.

Causing nerve damage

Surgeons are under pressure when operating, and the smallest slip of a scalpel could lead to lasting damage. Even in the case of a simple procedure, an accidental cut could lead to short- or even long-term disability and discomfort.

Using too much or too little anaesthetic

Not labelling patients correctly for surgery or the negligence of an anaesthesiologist can lead to major complications and even death. Too little anaesthesia may result in a patient waking up during surgery and going into shock, and too much can be equally deadly.

Operating on the wrong patient

Perhaps most horrifying of all, surgeons sometimes operate on the wrong patients. When hospital staff mix up patients, it can result in the wrong organs being removed or the wrong surgeries being performed, sometimes on otherwise healthy individuals.

What to do if you’re the victim of surgical error

If you’re on the receiving end of a surgical error, you may suffer financially as well as physically. For example, additional surgeries, expensive rehabilitation, medication and medical consultations may be required. You may also have to take time off work, or even lose your job.

In the case of surgical error, you can make a medical malpractice claim – and if the claim is successful, you may receive a settlement that compensates you for your expenses and suffering.

To prepare for and lodge a successful claim, it’s best to use the services of an attorney who specialises in personal injury claims.