Death caused by air embolism

Mr H suffered a massive air embolism when a catheter that had been used to provide dialysis was removed from his neck. The air embolism caused an obstruction to the flow of blood to the right side of Mr H’s heart, causing him to suffer a cardiac arrest. At the time of Mr H’s death, an air embolism was classed by the NHS as a “Never Event”. The list of “Never Events” were put together and the aim of the policy was to reduce “Never Events” to zero, as they were classed to be intolerable and inexcusable.

An air embolism occurs when the pressure in the veins is lower than the atmospheric pressure and as a result air gets drawn in. Very simple steps, however, can be taken to prevent this from happening and ensuring that, in fact, the venous pressure inside the body is higher.

These steps are clearly set out in a number of nursing guidelines. One step that needs to be taken is for the patient to be placed head down, or flat. This has the effect of increasing the pressure in the veins. In the case of Mr H, it was alleged by his family that the nurse responsible did not follow these guidelines and instead allowed Mr H’s head to be elevated. Therefore, when the catheter was removed, a hissing of air was heard and Mr H sustained a massive air embolism, leading to a cardiac arrest and death.

The case was fully defended by the Trust responsible for Mr H’s care. However, just prior to exchange of expert evidence, the Defendants put forward an offer of settlement which was accepted by the Claimant.

Davies and Partners also represented the family of Mr H at an Inquest that was held into his death.

On conclusion of the case, Mrs H’s widow commented “I would like to express my grateful thanks and appreciation for everything you and your team did. Without all of your hard work, I would not have won my case”.

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