Hospital Admits Errors After Removing Brain Tissue Instead Of Tumour

Lawyer Calls For GMC Investigation And For Lessons To Be Learnt

23.08.2011

A medical law expert has sealed a legal victory for a West Midlands man who suffered a haemorrhage and permanent brain injuries after he was subjected to unnecessary brain surgery.

John Tunney from Sutton Coldfield only needed tablets to control a problem with his pituitary gland but was instead subjected to an unnecessary biopsy by a surgeon who then wrongly removed part of his brain rather than the tumour.

University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust has now admitted liability for the mistakes and a medical law expert from Irwin Mitchell Solicitors is calling for the GMC to investigate the conduct of the surgeon responsible and for the trust to prove it has learnt lessons to safeguard future patients.

Mr Tunney, a former paramedic with West Midlands Ambulance Service, had undergone a number of tests and procedures, initially at Good Hope Hospital but, following an MRI scan which detected abnormalities around his pituitary gland, he was referred to Walsgrave Hospital for further investigation.

Blood tests to determine hormone levels were taken and these would have revealed that Mr Tunney was suffering from a benign condition known as prolactinoma which could have been controlled with medication. However the blood tests were not reviewed prior to the biopsy.

Mr Tunney, who at the time was aged 60, underwent a biopsy on the pituitary tumour at Coventry’s Walsgrave Hospital on 29th April 2008. During the operation, he suffered a brain haemorrhage and serious neurological injuries when the surgeon wrongly removed normal brain tissue instead of the tumour.

Timothy Deeming, a medical law expert with Irwin Mitchell Solicitors in Birmingham, who represented Mr Tunney, said: “The fact that the surgeon managed to remove perfectly healthy tissue rather than a sample of the tumour tissue is, in itself, an appalling error. To then find that the procedure was totally unnecessary because clinicians had failed to review a blood test, really does add insult to injury.

“The failings of the surgeon involved are so serious that the family is calling on the GMC to investigate his actions. We also very much hope that the Trust has reviewed its procedures and where necessary retraining has taken place to ensure that lessons are learnt to protect patients’ safety in the future.

“The Trust has now admitted liability for the errors. However, before a settlement can be reached we will need to evaluate the substantial lifelong care and support that Mr Tunney will now require. Whilst no amount of money will turn back the clock for him and his family, the future settlement will hopefully provide him with financial security to pay for the lifetime of care that he will now need.”

The brain injury Mr Tunney has been left with means that he is registered partially sighted and requires constant supervision, care and support. He also lacks capacity to deal with his own affairs.

Mr Tunney’s wife, Pamela said: “John’s brain injury has had devastating effects on him. Prior to the surgery he was a very easy going person who was always active and on the go. To see the change in him and to know that it was all entirely avoidable is extremely upsetting.

“As a paramedic, based at the Small Heath ambulance station with more than 23 year’s experience of working with the NHS, John put his complete trust in his surgeon, believing that he was an expert who knew best.

“It is appalling to think that the surgeon managed to botch the procedure completely and then to find that the biopsy wasn’t even necessary makes me incredibly angry.

“This mistake is not something that the hospital can just take back. I pray that they don’t make this mistake again and no other family has to experience seeing their husband suffer the pain and loss that John has.”