The daughter of an 83-year-old man who died after a surgical swab was left in his body for twenty months successfully reached a settlement of £20,000 for her father’s estate.

The retention of foreign objects such as sponges, needles and instruments after surgery (also known as gossypiboma) is an example of a preventable medical error. These retained objects can cause infection, adhesions, obstruction and sepsis. But in this sad case handled by Miriam Bi, complications when the swab was eventually removed led to the death of an elderly patient.

In September 2016, the deceased was admitted to a Surrey hospital with symptoms of a large bowel obstruction. He was found to have an obstructing carcinoma and underwent a Hartmann's procedure to remove part of the diseased bowel.

After surgery, the Deceased was transferred to the hospital’s intensive therapy unit (ITU) where he then suffered with a chest infection and kidney injury. He was discharged from hospital on 7 October 2016.

Following this, the Deceased had many follow-up appointments, CT scans and even a barium swallow to examine the gastrointestinal tract. Images from these tests showed the swab but there was a negligent failure to pick up on and report on this.

It was only when he was admitted in an emergency on 11 May 2018, some twenty months after the Hartmann’s procedure, with abdominal pain, vomiting and a lack of stoma output for 24 hours that the Defendant realised that there was a retained swab, showing up on another CT scan.

Four days later the Deceased underwent an invasive laparotomy to remove the swab. However, after this he remained weak and suffered with poor mobility. He then developed type II respiratory failure which is where there is an excess of carbon dioxide in the blood. He spent multiple periods in ITU where he needed intubating and ventilating.

Sadly, his condition deteriorated, a DNAR was put in place and he died on 3 July 2020 aged 83.

Following his death, his daughter sought legal advice from Medical Solicitors. The claimant alleged that her father experienced many failures, including a negligent failure to count the swabs in theatre at the time and missed opportunities to identify and remove the swab.

The Defendant, Epsom & St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, accepted breach of duty in failing to ensure that a swab was not retained during the course of the surgery in September 2016. But for the negligently retained swab, the Deceased would not have required emergency surgery in May 2018 and would not have died.

Liability was admitted at a Pre-Action stage without the need for expert evidence and an out of court settlement of £20,000 was reached in April 2021.

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