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Michelle Woolls: Lack of Surgical Expertise in NHS Hospitals

I've recently taken on a case involving negligently performed gall bladder surgery and was amused to read the letter from the surgeon to my client explaining what had happened...My client underwent keyhole surgery to remove his gall bladder (otherwise known as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy).

Following the operation, he began to suffer from severe abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and was vomiting green bile. He was rushed back into hospital a couple of weeks later for emergency surgery. It transpired that my client suffered a port site hernia and small bowel obstruction which in turn led to his wound becoming severely infected. The cause of the small bowel obstruction and consequent problems turned out to be a stitch which had been sewn through my client's small bowel during the closure of his wound.

In his letter of explanation, the surgeon informed my client that he had left a trainee doctor to stitch up his wound following surgery, presumably to try to excuse the fact that it had gone seriously wrong! However, what he probably doesn't realise is that when bringing a claim for clinical negligence, experience is irrelevant. The Courts have previously held that a trainee or learner should be judged by the same standard of care as his more experienced colleagues. Inexperience is therefore not a Defence to an action for clinical negligence.

Furthermore, if you delegate duties to someone else, you are responsible for ensuring that person has the necessary skills and is competent to do the job that has been delegated.The fact the negligent act was done by a trainee doctor therefore makes no difference to the merits of a claim. Be aware of this if you are in a similar position to my client.

Michelle Woolls is an assistant solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049, fill in our short online claim form and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.