Widow Urges GMC To Investigate After Husband Died Following Routine Op

Hospital Trust Admits Full Responsibility For Death Of Grandfather

11.10.2012

The distraught widow of a father-of-three who died after a surgeon severed a major vein and artery during a routine operation to remove his gall bladder has written to the General Medical Council (GMC) calling for an enquiry into the conduct of the medic involved to be re-opened.

It follows Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust admitting full responsibility for Brian Vernon’s ‘unnecessary’ death after his wife Sylvia launched a legal battle for justice with help from medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell. The firm has now secured a substantial five-figure settlement from the trust for Sylvia’s loss.

Brian died in September 2009, aged 67, after a surgeon severed the portal vein and an artery, which both carry blood to the liver, during a simple key-hole operation to remove his gall bladder at Stafford Hospital.

Despite being given around three and a half litres of blood during the operation, the surgeon failed to communicate on his notes the severity of the blood loss and Sylvia was not told how critical her husband’s condition was for several days, by which point it was too late.

The grandfather-of-four, from Rugeley, was transferred to the specialist liver unit at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, but his liver function had deteriorated so severely there was nothing they could do to save him and he died 13 days after the operation.

Sylvia, who had been married to Brian for 45 years, was so shocked and heartbroken by her loss she was unable to attend her husband’s funeral. She still struggles to understand how the surgery, which she was told was as simple as taking someone’s tonsils out, went so tragically wrong.

The GMC initially investigated the surgeon and closed the case recommending further training but at an inquest in May 2011 a peer review report commissioned by the coroner strongly criticised the operating surgeon and identified the severed vein and artery as a clear failing and rare injury as there are steps in the course of the surgery that should prevent it from happening.

The report also criticised the surgeon’s record keeping which at no point recorded that Brian had suffered a life threatening bleed.

The coroner recoded a narrative verdict and said Brian’s death resulted from complications of surgery carried out at Stafford Hospital on 20 August 2009 when, during key-hole surgery, a vein was lacerated causing significant blood loss.’

Sylvia feels, given the seriousness of the error made and the critical evidence heard during the inquest, that the GMC should re-open their enquiries and specialist medical lawyers at Irwin Mitchell will also write to the body backing her call.

Christopher Hurlston, a medical law and patient’s rights expert at Irwin Mitchell representing Sylvia, said: “Sylvia has been left absolutely devastated by the loss of her husband and has struggled to come to terms with what went so wrong, particularly as she and Brian were told it would be a simple operation.

“The trust’s admission of responsibility does give her some comfort and the settlement we arranged from the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust will provide the family with financial stability for the future, however she rightly wants to ensure improvements have been made so that no one else will suffer such a tragic and unnecessary loss

“Patient safety must be the top priority across the entire NHS and mistakes like the ones made during Brian’s operation should not happen. There is simply no excuse. We’re backing Sylvia’s calls for the GMC to re-open their investigation into the surgeon due to the severity of the error he made and the damning evidence that came out about his conduct during the inquest.”

It was decided Brian should have his gall bladder removed after he suffered from gall bladder problems for a year causing him severe sickness and pain. He and Sylvia were told the operation would be simple and he would be discharged the same day so they had no concerns.

Sylvia, 70, said: “When I arrived at the hospital after the operation the staff told me Brian was in the critical care unit as he had lost some blood. I couldn’t believe how ill he looked when I saw him - he was hooked up to dozens of wires, tubes and drains.

“When the children and I were eventually told about an artery being severed we just didn’t understand why we hadn’t been told sooner and how it could have happened, but no one gave us any real answers and it seemed like they wanted to pass the buck.

“At Birmingham Brian’s treatment was very good but the surgeon told us the operation to remove his gall bladder had failed and it became obvious he was not going to make it.

“He died a few days later with my daughter and I at his bedside. I felt so sick with the shock at what had happened I couldn’t even attend the funeral to properly say goodbye. It was, and still is, so hard to come to terms with the fact Brian has gone.

“We still miss him greatly and while nothing will bring him back, we want to see the surgeon thoroughly investigated by the GMC as the evidence heard during the inquest and the full admission of responsibility shows there were serious errors made.”