We present a review of claims made to the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) by patients with conditions affecting the shoulder and elbow, and identify areas of dissatisfaction and potential improvement. Between 1995 and 2012, the NHSLA recorded 811 claims related to the shoulder and elbow, 581 of which were settled. This comprised 364 shoulder (64%), and 217 elbow (36%) claims. A total of £18.2 million was paid out in settled claims. Overall diagnosis, mismanagement and intra-operative nerve injury were the most common reasons for litigation. The highest cost paid out resulted from claims dealing with incorrect, missed or delayed diagnosis, with just under £6 million paid out overall. Fractures and dislocations around the shoulder and elbow were common injuries in this category. All 11 claims following wrong-site surgery that were settled led to successful payouts.
This study highlights the diagnoses and procedures that need to be treated with particular vigilance. Having an awareness of the areas that lead to litigation in shoulder and elbow surgery will help to reduce inadvertent risks to patients and prevent dissatisfaction and possible litigation.