AN intensive care doctor has made an emotional apology in court to the family of a patient who died after he gave him the wrong drug.
Crash victim Arnold Harper, 56, was expected to survive when he was airlifted to Royal Preston Hospital with multiple fractures after his van smashed into a sea wall in Cumbria.
But within hours he was dead, with registrar Dr Pieter DuPreez admitting making an error with his post-operative medication.
Near to tears, Dr DuPreez faced members of Mr Harper’s family at an inquest in Preston and said: “I am terribly sorry, I made a mistake. Whether that had any impact or not I don’t know. But, regardless, I am sorry for your loss.”
South African Dr DuPreez, who has practised in Britain for 15 years, admitted giving the retired courier a powerful dose of adrenalin instead of a sedative following five-and-a-half hours of surgery.
The patient’s blood pressure and heart-rate rocketed and, despite efforts to revive him, he died of a cardiac arrest shortly after. The drug was one of four different medications in a bank of syringe drivers at Mr Harper’s bedside in the hospital’s ITU suite. Two were sedatives, one was for pain relief and the fourth, Noradrenaline, was to bring his blood pressure up following trauma.
It all happened quite quickly. He needed sedative quickly, I reached for what I thought was Alfentanil. I instinctively gave what I thought was the right one.Dr DuPreez
But when the patient became agitated as medics tried to “log roll” him to put an X-ray plate under his back, Dr DuPreez reached out and activated the Noradrenaline pump instead of the sedative Alfentanil.
“I looked at the syringe pumps and I went for the syringe which I felt was Alfentanil,” he told the inquest. “I can’t remember exactly why at the time I decided that was it. Alfentanil has a sky blue label and Noradrenalinne is purple.
“It all happened quite quickly. He needed sedative quickly, I reached for what I thought was Alfentanil. I instinctively gave what I thought was the right one.
“I noticed his blood pressure rising very shortly after, 30 seconds maybe. It didn’t have the intended effect. I realised at that time I had clearly made an error.”
Dr DuPreez explained he had been paying attention to monitors on the opposite side of the bed, as well as trying to protect the patient’s airway as he was being rolled over. The syringe drives had been over his left shoulder.
“You are in a position where you want to be aware of everything that is happening around you, I was paying attention to everything else that was going on,” he said.
“But it is not an excuse. It is my responsibility.”
Dr DuPreez admitted he had initially failed to disclose to his consultant Dr Andrew Gosling and to the family of Mr Harper that he had made an error with the drugs.
Turning again to the relatives he added: “At the time, when informing you of Mr Harper’s death, it was a traumatic experience already. I didn’t want to upset you more.
“I didn’t want to say it had been done in error to cause you any more upset and I am terribly sorry about that.”
Coroner Dr James Adeley is expected to sum up the evidence in the inquest today.