The much over used word “tragedy” is genuinely applicable to the sad case of Frances Cappuccini, the 30 year old mother of two who died when she failed to recover from anaesthesia following a caesarean section carried out at Tunbridge Wells Hospital in 2012.
The death of a young mother is always tragic, the fact that her death was eminently avoidable makes it doubly so. Mrs Cappuccini suffered from heavy blood loss during a caesarean section, giving birth to her second child. It was noted that she was having difficulty in breathing during the recovery period but the anaesthetist, Dr Nadeem Azeez proceeded to remove a breathing tube and failed to re-insert it when there was no improvement in her condition. He then failed to summon assistance for some time and when he did, Dr Errol Cornish who came to his aid, is said to have taken insufficient steps to rectify the situation, contributing to the patient’s death.
The death of a patient as a result of medical failings is sadly not uncommon. Historically such matters are often the subject of claims for compensation in the civil courts. Until recently, it was extremely rare for a medical practitioner to face criminal prosecution in such circumstances. Whilst Dr Azeez has apparently fled abroad, Dr Cornish is being prosecuted for manslaughter by gross negligence. Even more unusual is the fact that Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust is facing a charge of corporate manslaughter, the first time a health trust has faced such a charge since the introduction of the offence in 2008.
This follows the conviction of a paediatrician and nurse responsible for Jack Adcock’s care when he died from septic shock at Leicester Royal Infirmary in 2011. In December 2015 the Nottingham Crown Court convicted Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba and nurse Isabel Amaro for their errors, whilst in Wales, Cardiff Crown Court convicted three nurses following their failure to carry out blood glucose tests and then falsifying patient’s medical records, two of them receiving prison sentences.
It remains a mystery as to why we are seeing a spate of prosecutions in respect of matters which would once have been regarded as the sole preserve of civil proceedings. At a time when the NHS are seeking to prevent patients who have received negligent treatment from bringing claims, is the alternative of criminal prosecution being pursued as some sort of token compensation – we may not provide restitution for injuring you but we shall punish those who did it? It may be a conspiracy theory too far but given the time, expense and anguish caused by criminal trials, in the absence of any rational explanation for the current fashion for prosecuting doctors, we are left to speculate in a vacuum.
Dr Azeem has fled abroad, Dr Cornish had never gained a post-graduate qualification in anaesthesia recognised in the UK. Others recently convicted have gained their qualifications outside the UK. Should we be curious about the level of medical errors arising from treatment given by non UK qualified clinicians? Is there an argument for stricter assessment of clinicians of all types who come to this country to work, to ensure that the standards to which they adhere are at the same level as if they had been trained in this country? It is not to suggest that UK qualified doctors are not capable of serious error nor to deny that some of our leading medical experts in this country were born and trained abroad and yet have contributed hugely to our medical knowledge, merely to raise an issue of patient safety worthy of consideration in the light of recent events.
If you have experienced unsatisfactory medical treatment please contact the Clarke Willmott clinical negligence team on 0800 316 8892.