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Corporate manslaughter case against Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust following the death of Frances Cappuccini dismissed

By Claire McWethy

A corporate manslaughter case against Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust following the death of a teacher has been dismissed by the judge.

Frances Cappuccini, 30, died of a heart attack following a caesarean section caused by high levels of acid in her blood due to a lack of oxygen.

The Offham Primary School teacher suffered severe bleeding and never regained consciousness after surgery, which took place after she delivered her second son, Giacomo, in October 2012.

Frances Cappuccini
Frances Cappuccini

Dr Errol Cornish, 68, a consultant anaesthetist from South Africa, and his junior colleague Dr Nadeem Azeez, who has fled to Pakistan, were both accused of gross negligence manslaughter.

The trust, which became the first NHS trust to face corporate manslaughter charges, was accused of failing to check that the doctors were properly qualified.

Mrs Cappuccini suffered a haemorrhage in her uterus and following surgery, which went well, she was passed into the care of anaesthetist Dr Azeez who was joined later by senior Dr Cornish.

It was alleged the anaesthetists failed to re-intubate her quickly enough and she died after acid built up in her blood due to a lack of oxygen.

But at Inner London Crown Court today the gross negligence manslaughter case against Dr Cornish was dismissed, along with the charges of corporate manslaughter against the Trust itself.

Dr Errol Cornish at a previous hearing
Dr Errol Cornish at a previous hearing

The second doctor, Pakistani born Nadeem Azeez, was not on trial as he was no longer in the country.

After hearing the prosecution evidence, including an expert from the Royal College of Anaesthetists Prof Philip Hopkins, Mr Justice Peter Coulson QC ruled neither the trust nor Dr Cornish had a case to answer.

Judge Coulson said: "Experts agreed that the blood gas results don't show the patient required immediate intubation.

"There's no question that she shouldn't have died at the trust's hospital on October 9, 2012.

"Understandably her family want to know why she died and want someone to be held accountable.

"But this is not a public inquiry into her death. It is a criminal trial with two defendants facing serious charges.

Dr Nadeem Azeez
Dr Nadeem Azeez

"The test for gross negligence manslaughter is very high and cases are rare. A misjudgement has to be so grave that it is a crime."

Following the dismissal, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust offered its "deepest sympathies" to Mrs Cappuccini's family. A spokesman said: "We understand that no outcome from these proceedings could bring any consolation to the family for the loss of Frances.

"Patient safety remains of paramount importance to the trust and it has been shown during the trial that a number of compassionate and highly skilled clinical teams were involved in caring for Frances.

"The trust has however recognised from the start that there were aspects of Frances' care that fell short of the standards that the trust expects and they have already apologised to the family for this.

"The trust regrets that the Crown Prosecution Service saw fit to pursue the charges in the first place given the additional distress this will have caused to all involved."

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