Woman left screaming in pain after doctors 'failed to anaesthetise her during surgery'

Alexandra Thompson
Asian doctor and an assistant in the operating room for surgical venous vascular surgery clinic in hospital.
The patient went under the knife at Yeovil Hospital, Somerset, in July last year. [Photo: Getty]

A woman claims she was left screaming in pain after doctors failed to properly anaesthetise her during surgery.

The unnamed patient underwent a gynaecological procedure at Yeovil Hospital, Somerset, in July last year.

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She was reportedly given a spinal anaesthetic, which “gives pain relief in specific areas of your body”, according to Nuffield Health.

Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust admits she should have been under general anaesthetic, which sends patients to sleep and leaves them unaware the operation is being carried out, the NHS reports.

The woman told the BBC she “immediately felt” an incision in her belly button. Although she screamed out in pain, her oxygen mask reportedly muffled the sound.

More than a year later, she claims she is still traumatised by the incident.

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“I have been suffering with nightmares which are horrendous,” the patient said.

“I have a re-occurring image of lying on the operating table, screaming with lots of people around me watching and no-one helps me.

“I estimate I wake up around three times per week sweating and very fearful.”

The trust has accepted liability and apologised, blaming a “breakdown of communication” for the incorrect anaesthesia.

It declined to comment further ahead of a settlement being reached.

The patient’s solicitor Elise Burvill, from Irwin Mitchell, told the BBC her surgeon was surprised to find her awake during the procedure.

This reportedly left her anxious, which was made worse when the pain kicked in, Ms Burvill added.

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Although it is unclear what surgery the woman had, the NHS claims a general anaesthetic is “essential for some procedures where it may be safer or more comfortable for you to be unconscious”.

These may include “long operations or those that would otherwise be very painful”.

How do general anaesthetics work?

How general anaesthetics work is somewhat of a mystery.

Anaesthesia is induced with an inhaled or IV “volatile” drug, which is then maintained throughout the procedure to keep the patient “knocked out”, according to the National Institute of Health Care and Excellence.

Painkillers, usually short-acting opioids, are also used. Neuromuscular-blocking drugs help a patient breathe via a ventilator.

Together, the drugs are thought to interrupt nerve signalling. As a result, “stimulation” to the body does not get processed by the brain.

BBC Future previously reported up to 5% of patients may “wake up” on the operating table, unable to move.

Due to the drugs’ amnesic effects, most do not remember the experience.

The Anesthesia Awareness Registry at the University of Washington in Seattle records incidences recalled by US patients.

Some claim they heard medics talking and even panicking.

Nearly three quarters (70%) also report pain, ranging from stinging and burning to unbearable agony.