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Too Many Bowel Surgery Patients Are Dying Due to Failures in Care Standards

An NHS-funded report has revealed care standards at too many hospitals are failing to deliver sufficient care for seriously ill patients undergoing some of the riskiest surgery in medicine.

According to the first-ever clinical audit of the treatment received by 21,000 patients at 192 of 195 eligible NHS hospitals across England and Wales, more than one in 10 patients undergoing emergency bowel surgery die within 30 days.

The procedure, known as an emergency laparotomy, has a much higher mortality rate than most operations, including those for cancer and heart issues. More than 30,000 patients undergo the procedure every year in NHS hospitals in England and Wales.

While some hospitals were performing well in their care of bowel surgery patients, the report highlighted the widespread failure of a large minority of hospitals to ensure patients whose lives were at risk due to organ failure and an obstructed bowel caused by cancer, were getting the care they needed before, during and after the hugely risky procedure.

Problems outlined in the report included: delays in diagnosis, insufficient post-operative access to critical or intensive care units, a lack of specialist doctors and operating theatres, and a failure to urgently administer antibiotic therapy to combat potentially life-threatening sepsis infections.

These are significant failings that are seriously compromising survival rates, meaning too many patients are dying needlessly. The death rate at present is much higher than it should be, and if hospitals were doing more to meet the expected standards of care in treating bowel surgery patients, death rates would come down.

Currently, these standards are not being met for 30-40% of patients in some hospitals. Only half of patients were seen by a consultant surgeon and anaesthetist within the recommended 12 hours, and one in six patients failed to arrive in operating theatres within the recommended timeframes, despite the urgent nature of the surgery.

This information makes for very disturbing reading. If one in 10 patients are dying following bowel surgery, this means there are 3000 deaths every year. What this audit does not highlight is specifically how many of these deaths could have been avoided.

Many of these deaths may be preventable. Expert supervision and treatment is not always immediately at hand and this needs to change. If all patients were more closely supervised and had their risk of death and complications properly assessed, this would do more than anything to improve death rates.

The Clinical Negligence team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers has handled a significant number of cases where the failure to properly treat and monitor patients with suspected bowel problems has led to significant injury and/or death.

One such case involved a patient who presented with significant abdominal pain. A suspected bowel obstruction was identified, however, the patient was not seen by a consultant for some 36 hours and by the time surgery was instigated, organ failure had begun, resulting in the man’s death.

Nisha Sharma is a Senior Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

If you or a member of your family suffered from negligent treatment in hospital, call our Medical Negligence Solicitors for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.


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