Lawyers Write to GMC After Devoted Dad Dies Following Severed Vein During ‘Routine’ Op

Widow Speaks Of Devastation After Inquest


Expert medical lawyers acting for the devastated wife of a father-of-four who died after a doctor severed a vein during what should have been a routine operation have written to the General Medical Council in the hope of preventing any other family suffering a similar tragedy.

Julie Bircham has enlisted the help of medical law specialists at Irwin Mitchell, who say they are ‘shocked’ at the amount of blood her husband Dean lost during an operation to replace a disc in his spine, performed privately, at Rivers Hospital in Sawbridgeworth in September 2010.

The law firm has written to the GMC to notify them of their involvement and say they are deeply concerned to learn that one of the surgeons they are investigating already has a five-year GMC warning arising from post-operative care provided to a patient following spinal surgery.

The warning, available from the GMC website, said the surgeon “..failed personally to carry out an appropriate review of the patient….during which time it became clear that the patient had developed serious post operative complications requiring urgent treatment”.

An inquest into Dean’s death at Chelmsford Coroners Court, which concluded today (20 July) heard how Dean, from Roydon in Essex, was told it would be a routine operation and he would be home as quickly as possible, but that during the procedure, the spinal surgeon severed one of the major veins in the 51-year-old dad-of-four’s spine.

The inquest heard from an independent medical expert, who advised that the normal blood loss for this procedure is just 300-500 mls in total, but giving evidence, the Consultant Anaesthetist looking after Dean during the surgery, revealed that Dean lost at least 46,000mls of blood.

Dean spent seven days in intensive care at the Princess Alexandra Hospital but he never regained consciousness and died on 30 September, leaving his family distraught and unable to understand what had gone so wrong.

The Coroner, Ms Harrington, recorded a narrative verdict today saying Dean “died as a result of Pulmonary Oedema, Multiorgan Failure, Haemorrhage following intervertebral disc replacement and chronic bronchitis and emphysema”.  She also said there was a “delay in the provision of blood” but said this did not make a significant difference to the outcome. 

Anita Jewitt, a specialist medical lawyer from Irwin Mitchell’s London office representing the family, said: “The operation should have been a relatively simple procedure to ease Dean’s back pain but sadly the severed vein, which occurred during surgery, meant he would never return home. He was the main bread winner, providing for his wife and four children, one of whom has cerebral palsy, and they are simply unable to come to terms with his sudden death.

“We are investigating this case on behalf of Mrs Bircham who understandably has many questions about what when wrong and wants to ensure no other family has to suffer the same loss.

“We are also very concerned to learn one of the surgeons involved in Dean’s operation already has a warning arising from post-operative care provided to a patient who underwent spinal surgery, and we are keen to assist the GMC with any further investigations they may hold.”

Dean was booked in privately for the lumbar spine disc replacement and fusion, a procedure he was told would result in an improvement in his pain and quality of life. 

His wife Julie, 52, said: “We were told the operation would be relatively straightforward. Just the day before surgery, he was building furniture in our son’s bedroom.  Dean was an active, hard working, caring man who was utterly devoted to his family.  We worked as a team and he was involved in every aspect of family life.  He didn’t just support me, but also took an active part in caring for our 4 children.  In particular, he helped care for our daughter who suffers from cerebral palsy.  It was heartbreaking to watch such a strong and independent man fighting for his life in intensive care. 

“Whilst the inquest has provided us with some answers about what happened to Dean, we still can’t begin to come to terms with it until we have some answers about what happened during surgery. We want to ensure this can’t happen to anyone else”.