A hospital patient severely burnt by a piece of medical equipment during a routine operation has called on medical chiefs to take urgent steps to prevent others suffering similar debilitating injuries.
Mike Wilcock, 58, woke from minor surgery at Maidstone Hospital with excruciating pain in his right buttock. It later emerged a heated mattress, widely used across the NHS to maintain patients’ body temperature while under general anaesthetic, had overheated; reaching a temperature hot enough to cook flesh.
Sedated and under anaesthetic, Mr Wilcock, ironically a Senior Health and Safety Inspector, was left on the hot surface for up to an hour as surgery was performed and was powerless to alert medics to the problem.
It’s thought that hospital theatre procedures failed and staff were unaware that the heated mattress, known as a “hotdog” was overheating.
Mr Wilcock, of Tunbridge Wells, suffered such serious third degree burns that he required transfer to a specialist burns hospital and an emergency skin graft to his right buttock. But, this was not the end of his ordeal. During further emergency surgery he suffered a mild heart attack, thought to be caused by a combination of the three anaesthetics given in quick succession and the trauma of the injury.
The keen sailor’s injuries are so serious from the incident on September 25, 2012, that he has been left unable to sit for any long period of time and could not work for five months.
Although with gradual rehabilitation and home working he has now managed to return to work, his injury has had a serious impact on his work and he is not able to travel far or carry out his duties as before. The scaring and loss of flesh is permanent and he continues to suffer pain and discomfort.
He has started legal action against Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, claiming a series of flaws in safety procedures and a general lack of training of staff led to his serious injury.
Mr Wilcock said, “What should have been a simple medical operation has left me disfigured and has disrupted my life and that of my family. I’m a qualified sailing instructor. I can’t do that. I have been reduced to watching from the shoreline. It’s taken away my main hobby.”
He added, “My medical negligence case highlights the critical nature of suitable and adequate training for NHS staff in how to use and maintain equipment.
“It also highlights that even with the most dedicated staff in the world things can go wrong, and when they do, it’s absolutely vital that a full and open investigation is carried out and lessons learned.
“A culture in somewhere like a hospital theatre needs to be one of learning and openness.
“Hospital theatre staff are dedicated people who we trust with our lives. When something goes wrong, as inevitably it does from time to time, the culture in the operating theatre should be one where staff can identify what went wrong, why, and learn the lessons to prevent it happening again.
“In my case I feel that the NHS medical staff were more worried about protecting themselves from blame and protecting the NHS Hospital from a medical negligence compensation claim.
“Even the letter I eventually received from the hospital failed to simply say sorry and say what the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust would do to prevent anyone else going through what I had to.”
The medical error has been investigated by the Health and Safety Executive and they have brought a criminal prosecution alleging failure to ensure the health and safety of patients on the part of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital Trust.
This case was heard on 11 September when the Hospital Trust pleaded guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, Section 3. The NHS Hospital Trust will be sentenced in Crown Court at a later date.
It has now emerged that two other patients had previously received minor burn in similar circumstances months before Mr Wilcock’s incident.
Mr Wilcock’s specialist Clinical Negligence Solicitor, Laura Craig of Slater and Gordon Lawyers said, “This is an extremely worrying case. There seems to have been a serious failure of key safeguards which should protect a patient being placed on this heated mattress.
“The hospital owes a duty of care to Mr Wilcock, especially when he was at his most vulnerable, under general anaesthetic and unable to alert the staff to his discomfort.
“It is of utmost importance that lessons are learned from this incident to prevent anything similar happening again. Had a similar incident occurred when someone more frail, unwell or a small child had been on the operating table the consequences might have been far worse.”
Laura Craig is a Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers' London office.
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