Anaesthetic awareness refers to the state of consciousness of a patient during surgery. For the patient, it can be a traumatic and painful experience with long term effects on their psychological wellbeing. Although these cases are rare, a compensation claim can be an option to provide some if the anaesthetic awareness was induced by of negligent medical treatment.
There are two main scenarios: During and after surgery while the patient recovers – and during intensive care for example if a patient is meant to be tranquilised or sedated, when a patient is paralysed, intubated or connected to a life supporting machine. Dreaming during surgery does not amount to awareness, however the boundaries are difficult to define.
The causes for anaesthetic awareness include:
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Although some patients report anaesthetic awareness right after surgery, others do not realise it until later, often struggling to remember what exactly had happened. There is a common technique used to help patients remember which includes asking questions such as what the last thing is they remember before they had been anaesthetised or what the first thing is the recall happening while waking up (‘Brice interview’). Generally, it has to be noted, that while anaesthetic awareness is relatively rare, it is quite common for patients to experience some sort of awareness during surgery such as hearing sounds while waking up. The latter experiences would however not amount to anaesthetic awareness.
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There are various symptoms a patient suffering from anaesthetic awareness might experience, such as:
What is medical staff expected to do to minimise the risk of anaesthetic awareness?
It is important for medical staff to thoroughly examine the patients and their medical history to identify whether there is a higher risk of them experiencing anaesthetic awareness. This includes asking about previous experiences and the usage of other drugs. The medical staff will then decide on measures which can reduce the risks of anaesthetic awareness for the patient which can include certain pre-medications the technique used to supply the anaesthetic or the monitoring of the patient.
An expert solicitor can bring a claim for compensation against the NHS, private organisation or an individual if the anaesthetic awareness was caused by medical negligence. The value of the claim depends on the individual case and the personal circumstances of the patient and can be estimated after an initial assessment of the case.
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