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NHS trust admits negligence in settlement for family of abdominal surgery woman who died aged 38

A woman died aged just 38 after suffering severe abdominal pain which affected her own and her family life for several years.

29 June 2020

Now her family has been awarded a six-figure settlement after Watford General Hospital years later admitted that a decision to carry out surgery on the woman’s stomach and oesophagus was negligent.
The woman, who we have called Ms M, had a difficult and complex medical history. In December 2010, Ms M complained of regular burning abdominal pain. An endoscopy performed in January 2011 revealed a hiatus hernia and Ms M was also experiencing reflux and heartburn.

On 23 March 2011, Ms M underwent fundoplication surgery (an operation on her stomach and oesophagus) to treat longstanding upper abdominal discomfort at Watford General Hospital.
In the months following, she suffered severe abdominal pain and discomfort, including vomiting, spasms and an inability to eat.

Eventually, Ms M was referred for further investigation to Broomfield Hospital.
However, following preliminary consultations and tests, she did not receive any active medical management and her symptoms continued unabated and untreated.

In the early hours of 1 June 2013, Ms M was taken by ambulance to Watford General Hospital suffering severe abdominal pain.
Following her admission, her condition deteriorated, and a CT scan showed free food and faeces in her abdomen.
Emergency surgery was unsuccessful, and Ms M died in theatre from cardiac arrest.

Subsequent post-mortem examination found the cause of her death to be peritonitis secondary to gastric perforation caused by severe vomiting.
Leigh Day medical negligence Partner Suzanne White represented the family in their claim against West Hertford Hospitals NHS Trust.
Liability was initially denied but later admitted by Watford General Hospital who acknowledged that the decision to perform the fundoplication surgery was negligent and had Ms M had the alternative treatment, her injuries and death would have been avoided.
Suzanne White said:

“This was an extremely distressing case as Ms M suffered the most terrible pain for many years witnessed by her young son.
“Despite many attempts to seek help from her treating doctors she was left with terrible pain, until she was so ill she was admitted to hospital after suffering a ruptured stomach and sadly died of sepsis.
“The care in itself was appalling for Ms M but the family had the additional distress of having to bring a claim which was aggressively defended by the Trust.”

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