Published: 16:35, 05 March 2021
| Updated: 19:19, 05 March 2021
A grandfather who was "never happier" than when he was with family died after a cut to his bowel during a routine operation, which led to a fatal infection, went undetected for days.
Peter Southey, from Rainham, was having his gallbladder removed at Medway Maritime Hospital when he suffered a small nick to his bowel caused by a scalpel during the surgery.
The 60-year-old was initially recovering well following the surgery last August but his condition deteriorated three days later.
He was taken to theatre where the cut was found and doctors discovered Mr Southey's bowel was leaking.
An inquest at the Archbishop's Palace in Maidstone this week heard Mr Southey, a quality control manager, had three more difficult procedures but he died two weeks later on September 6.
His devastated partner, Cathy Blundell, is now urging for surgeons and hospital staff to learn lessons from Mr Southey's tragic death.
The family raised several concerns about the care Mr Southey received at the hospital and whether there was any clinical negligence which caused his death.
Ms Blundell said her partner's death was a "real shock" and something she feels she will never come to terms with.
“When Peter went into hospital we thought he would have his gallbladder removed, be home in no time and would be back to normal within a week or so," Ms Blundell said after the inquest.
“To then be told there had been complications and Peter needed more treatment and surgery was a surprise but we thought at least he was in the best place.
“As the days went by we did start to get a bit concerned but were told by the doctors that they thought Peter was making progress.
"We really had no idea what was going on.
“That we were unable to do anything to help him or be by his side as his life slipped away is something I don’t think we’ll ever truly come to terms with."
“Suddenly to be told Peter was critically ill and had sepsis came as a real shock.
"We understood why we couldn’t visit Peter but we feel that we weren’t made aware of the severity of his condition until it was too late.
“Peter was a real family man. He was never happier than when spending time with the kids and grandkids.
“That we were unable to do anything to help him or be by his side as his life slipped away is something I don’t think we’ll ever truly come to terms with.
“All we can hope for now is that the trust learns from what happened.
"Our family wouldn’t want anyone else to have to go through the pain we have.”
Solicitors representing the family say they are continuing to seek further answers from Medway NHS Trust after the inquest concluded on Wednesday.
This will include a detailed review of Mr Southey's medical records to establish whether there were failings and if the cut to the bowel could or should have been recognised earlier.
Alisha Puri, solicitor for the family, said Mr Southey's family have asked to find out if earlier intervention would have saved his life.
Medway NHS Trust chief executive James Devine offered Mr Southey's family "sincere condolences during this difficult time".
He added: "The coroner found that, very sadly, Mr Southey suffered a rare but recognised complication of a necessary medical procedure.
"A thorough investigation by a senior independent surgeon identified that there were no steps that could have been taken by our surgical team that could have prevented this tragic event or identified and treated the problem any sooner."
A coroner recorded Mr Southey died of peritonitis – an infection of the lining of the tummy – as a result of the cut he suffered during the initial gallbladder procedure, adding that his injury was a "rare but recognised complication of a necessary medical procedure".
He was admitted to hospital for surgery on August 19 but doctors encountered the complications during the operation.
The procedure, which normally takes about 45 minutes, lasted two-and-a-half hours and drains were left inside Mr Southey due to the risk of infection caused by bile leaking.
"We were unable to do anything to help him or be by his side as his life slipped away, I don’t think we’ll ever truly come to terms with..."
A scan two days later showed fluid building in Mr Southey's abdomen and another drain was fitted to remove liquid from his bowel.
It was only when he went into theatre the following day that the cut was discovered.
On August 24, he was returned to surgery to have his bowel rejoined but he was deemed too unwell and a stoma was fitted.
The inquest heard a doctor told Mr Southey's family he was making good progress and that he was improving.
But his liver function worsened and further scans showed more fluid in his abdomen.
On September 5, surgeons found an abscess and blood clot under his liver and the inquest heard the family were told Mr Southey had sepsis. He died the next day.
Speaking after the inquest, Ms Puri, a specialist medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: "Peter’s family believed he was going into hospital for a relatively straightforward procedure and so were incredibly shocked when they were told how critical his condition was.
“Understandably Cathy and the rest of the family have been devastated by what happened. They have a number of concerns in relation to the care Peter received.
“While nothing can make up for his death we’re pleased to have been able to represent the family at the Inquest in order to seek out answers.
“It’s now vital that lessons are learned to improve patient care and we are investigating the concerns highlighted at the Inquest as to why the cut to Peter’s gallbladder in the days following surgery went unrecognised.”