Dozens of hospital patients in Denmark may have had ‘avoidable’ leg amputations

As many as 90 patients under Denmark’s Central Jutland health authority may have undergone leg amputations at the hip, thigh, knee or lower leg, even though the operations could have been avoided in some cases.

aarhus university hospital skejby
A file photo of Aarhus University Hospital. Photo: Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish media including newspaper Ekstra Bladet and broadcaster DR on Friday reported the high number of potentially avoidable, life changing procedures in the region.

An external investigation for the Central Jutland (Midtjylland) region found that treatments which could have averted amputations at the vascular disease department at Aarhus University Hospital were generally given at too late a stage of the patient’s disease.

Delayed treatment increases the risk of amputation.

“We can unfortunately not rule out that some people could have avoided amputation or delayed the need for amputation,” executive director Ole Thomsen said.

The hospital department at the centre of the report treats patients with diseases including arteriosclerosis and aneurisms in blood vessels.

“Up to 90 patients per year have undergone an amputation that could have been avoided,” Thomsen told DR.

Affected patients will be able to claim compensation, news wire Ritzau writes.

Patients who have undergone amputations within the last year will receive notification from the regional health authority on when they can file a claim.

“We are now informing vascular disease patients who have had a leg amputated at the hip, thigh, knee or lower leg within recent years in regard to their compensation and complaint options,” Thomsen said.

Most of the amputations are likely to have been performed with good reason according to the findings of the analysis, the health region said.

The external investigation was conducted at Aarhus University Hospital and the regional hospital in Viborg, where patients from the relevant department are treated. It found that some patients with arteriosclerosis or aneurisms were not treated quickly enough.

“I apologise sincerely for the situation we are in. The analysis clearly shows that vascular disease treatment must be improved,” the elected chairperson of the Central Jutland regional health board, Anders Kühnau in a press statement.

“I am ready to take up this agenda with the regional health council,” he said.

Work is already underway to improve the department, Thomsen said.

“We can’t treat patients quickly enough and I am very sorry for that. We owe it to patients to treat more people more quickly and to improve working relations between hospitals,” he said.

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Denmark presents plan to hire 100 new staff at maternity wards

100 new staff at maternity wards nationally will contribute to improved conditions for new mothers across Denmark, according to a political plan.

Denmark presents plan to hire 100 new staff at maternity wards

The plan was presented by the government and allied parties on the left on Monday. The Alternative and Christian Democratic parties are also in support of the deal. It thereby has an overall parliamentary majority behind it.

The political deal sets aside 80 million kroner over a three-year period to be spent on recruiting and retaining midwives. It will be designed to stop the loss of staff in the sector seen in the Greater Copenhagen region in particular.

It will also give first-time mothers the option of staying in hospitals for up to two days after giving birth, should they choose to do so.

Mothers who choose not to stay at hospitals will have the right to a home visit post-birth.

Currently, mothers in some areas are discharged from hospital shortly after giving birth – within hours in some cases.

The new right for first-time mothers to stay in hospital for two days will come into effect this year, with the parties behind the deal to meet in 2024 with a view to extending it to all births.

The deal aims to improve working conditions for midwives and other maternity ward staff as part of the drive to recruit and retain them. Its practical details will be agreed with Danske Regioner, the representative board for the regional health authorities.

Funding for the investment in neonatal care in Denmark was put aside in the 2022 budget, with the agreement between parties on its spending now finalised.

A total of 475 million kroner will be spent on the area up to 2025.

“Everyone has the right to good care when giving birth and it has long been clear that conditions in the maternity sector must be improved,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said in a ministry statement.

Lis Munk, chairwoman of the Danish Midwives’ Association (Jordemoderforeningen), welcomed the agreement and noted “a recognition that there is not (currently) the number of staff that we need”, but also said that as many as 200 new midwives may be needed. 

“Nowadays, women in labour may well find that there is neither a room nor a midwife for you when you need one,” Munk told news wire Ritzau.

“And then you end up being alone for a large part of the birth,” she said.

Denmark saw considerable debate in 2021 relating to the standard of maternity care in the country, with several cases of mothers and staff describing what they considered below-par conditions. These include reports by broadcaster DR and magazine Femina of Caesarian sections that were necessary because problems during births were not detected early enough, because of a lack of adequate staffing.

Other criticism related to new mothers being discharged from hospitals within hours of giving birth and before they felt ready to leave.