Woman “butchered” by doctor appalled as he continues to operate

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Woman “butchered” by doctor appalled as he continues to operate

15th February 2011

A St Helens woman whose routine operation left her requiring life-threatening surgery was appalled to learn the doctor who she claimed "butchered" her was being allowed to continue working.

In January last year, Patricia Brown, 55, received a substantial out of court settlement after pursuing a clinical negligence claim against St Helens & Knowsley NHS Trust. But during a follow-up visit to monitor her recovery, she was horrified to learn that Mr Shabbir Poonawala - the consultant surgeon who carried out the initial operation on her - was still practising.

Mrs Brown had attended St Helens Hospital to have painful gall stones removed on September 3, 2008, but following the supposedly routine surgery carried out by Mr Poonawala it soon became clear that something was very wrong.

"I was still bleeding for days after the operation," said Mrs Brown, of Prescott. "The hospital had to insert a drain into my stomach to get rid of the excess blood. There was also a discharge, which was going into a colostomy bag attached to me. When I asked the hospital what this was for they told me not to worry about it."

Mrs Brown said three days after the operation she began to suspect something was seriously wrong. "The doctors tried to assure me the fluid coming out of my stomach was just bile," she said. "Then I found out they were transferring me to another hospital. Around five days after the operation I was taken by ambulance to Whiston Hospital. The doctors at St Helens told me Whiston had superior equipment and they would be able to put a camera down my throat and find out what the problem was."

These investigations were carried out the very next day, and Mrs Brown was then transferred to Aintree Hospital for further treatment. "By this point I was becoming more and more anxious as to what was happening," she said.

Mrs Brown's consultant at Aintree Hospital was concerned that her skin had turned a yellow colour from just beneath her hairline, giving her a jaundiced appearance.

"He arranged for me to undergo a scan, but when that didn't show anything he explained that he would need to perform further, investigative surgery on me," said Mrs Brown. "He said he intended to open me up and find out exactly what was wrong. He explained the risks involved - he said that if I suffered from a large bleed during the procedure then it could be fatal."

After the surgery, which lasted several hours, Mrs Brown was shocked by what her doctor told her. "He said that he had never seen such a 'botch-up' before," she said. "We had spent all that time wondering how a routine gall bladder operation could suddenly turn into major surgery, and now we knew. I felt like I'd been butchered."

Mark Hatzer, a clinical negligence specialist with Fentons Solicitors LLP, represented Mrs Brown. "The surgeon noted that the ducts where the gall bladder had been removed in the first operation had simply been cut away," he said. "To correct this, he had to remove veins from Mrs Brown's lower bowel and graft these in their place."

"Mrs Brown also had to have a significant number of stitches, including some in a delicate area around the large artery under her liver," said Mr Hatzer, a partner with the firm. "Essentially, the corrective surgery had to redirect blood to and from a number of her internal organs. The new vein means the flow of blood has been restricted and she needs regular scans to ensure she does not suffer from a bleed."

Mr Hatzer was particularly disappointed that the claim had been contested for more than a year by St Helens & Knowsley NHS Trust, before a settlement was agreed. "Mrs Brown, her husband and family went through hell for over a year," he said. "The fact they were made to fight so hard for so long after such an obvious failing in care was disgraceful."

After her case was settled in January last year, Mrs Brown said she was looking forward to moving forward with her life. But she was left shocked and appalled when she discovered that Mr Poonawala was still practising.

"How can this be allowed to happen?" demanded Mrs Brown. "The Trust settled my claim against them, which to my mind means they realise Mr Poonawala messed up."

"And yet he is permitted to just carry on working. What if he does this to someone else?" she said.

"I still have to attend regular check-ups at the hospital, and my husband is now my full-time carer. Our lives have been ruined by what happened to me when I was supposed to be under this man's care, but he is able to just carry on operating. It strikes me that something is very wrong with that.

"I just can't believe that Mr Poonawala is being allowed to continue operating on others like me," she said. "I only hope that no-one else has to go through the same kind of ordeal that I have been through this last two years."