Doctors exposed to criminal conviction as a result of medical negligence?
In November 2013, Colorectal Surgeon Dr. David Sellu, was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter in the UK as a result of the death of a patient of his in 2010. This UK decision will undoubtedly send shivers down the spine of surgeons who provide excellent medical care day in day out, but who can make mistakes and cannot always guarantee success.
The facts relating to this conviction are as follows:
Mr Hughes underwent a knee replacement. The operation went well but after four days he suffered from unrelated abdominal pain. He came under the care of Dr Sellu. Despite confirmation by the radiologist that there was gas in Mr Hughes’ abdomen, confirming a bowel perforation, a considerable delay ensued and Mr Hughes died as a result of sepsis.
Dr. Sellu was charged with gross negligence manslaughter. The prosecution’s case was that, in circumstances where Mr Sellu had suspected a perforated bowel, he should have ordered an immediate CT scan and an operation should have taken place to replace the tear in the bowel as soon as possible.
The prosecuting Counsel, Ms Cheema QC, stated the following “Sellu took on the responsibility to care for Mr Hughes and the failure to arrange an operation as soon as possible was the first failing of that care”. She went on to state “The second is the failure by the Defendant to ask for a CT scan urgently. The third breach is the failure to prescribe antibiotics which every medical expert agrees were vital to fight the infection and should have been prescribed that night”.
She stated “He didn’t clear his list of non-urgent operations, nor did he arrange for another surgeon. He didn’t ask the hospital to break into any other surgery lists. He did not ask the hospital to provide a suitable anaesthetist and he did not send Mr Hughes to another hospital by ambulance to be operated on urgently. There was a series of missed opportunities and serious errors of judgment in his care of this patient and they combined to cause Mr Hughes’ premature death and the standard of care was exceptionally bad”.
Mr Sellu was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and received a 2½ year sentence. This is an unusual case in circumstances where this type of prosecution is extremely rare. This recent conviction will undoubtedly raise concerns for healthcare professionals. Previous cases involving manslaughter convictions for doctors involved multiple injuries and attempts to conceal or alter medical records. Surely this conviction will impact upon the medical profession and may possibly result in a decline in the number of doctors who wish to embark on a career as a surgeon.
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