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Paul Sankey discusses negligent gallbladder surgery

I have just negotiated a large award of damages for the family of a woman who died after a negligent gallbladder operation.
Gallstones in the gallbladder or bile duct is a relatively common disease, particularly among women. Treatment often involves a straightforward operation to remove the gallbladder (‘cholecystectomy’). The operation is normally done by keyhole surgery (‘laparoscopy’) although sometime open surgery is needed.
The gallbladder sits at the end of the cystic duct, which branches off the bile duct like the branch of a tree off the main trunk. The surgeon puts clips over both ends of the cystic duct and then removes the gallbladder.
I have done a number of the cases and the things that can go wrong are:
1. Putting one of the clips over the bile duct and causing a blockage;
2. Mistaking the cystic duct for the bile duct and cutting the wrong duct;
3. Accidentally damaging the bile duct.
All these complications can lead to illness, bile leaks and infection.
In this case the surgeon mistook the bile duct for the cystic duct, cut it in 2 places and, having realised his mistake, sewed the bile duct back together. Although that sounds like a logical response it was not because the bile duct no longer had any blood supply. It disintegrated within days causing serious infection. Unfortunately the medical staff were not alert to her worsening condition until she went into septic shock and died.
This is a tragic story but it is also one where error compounded error. There were 3 mistakes – cutting the wrong duct, repairing it negligently and then failing to note the woman’s developing sepsis.
Besides the tragedy of the bereavement, the family have lost someone who was devoted to looking after her husband and supporting her daughter in caring for grandchildren. Money cannot turn the clock back but the large award is recognition by the hospital that its care went disastrously wrong.Paul Sankey is a 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 or email and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.