Which of us fancies ending their career with a spell in the clink? Being a surgeon in the UK has just become a whole lot riskier. We all know that in our job success can add extra years to our patients lives, by contrast, failure, can result in significant harm, or, in the worst circumstances, death. We all do our best, but sometimes things don’t work out. The sentence of two and a half years in prison for Mr David Sellu, who was referred a patient who developed peritonitis after an orthopaedic operation and subsequently died, smacks of injustice, and sends a shiver down the spine of all of us surgeons, who work hard on behalf of our patients, but who cannot always guarantee success.
The case is reported in detail in the latest bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons (Ann R Coll Surg Engl (Suppl) 2014; 96: 112-113). It appears that the main problem was a delay in taking the patient to theatre because of the difficulty in finding an anaesthetist; a problem that cannot be reasonably be blamed upon the surgeon himself. If prosecutions for manslaughter become more frequent in circumstances similar to the Sellu case, we may all have to develop new defensive strategies. The prospect of ending an otherwise unblemished career in a prison cell as a result of an unfortunate clinical mishap might deter many from entering the profession in the first place. How should we react to the very sad scenario?
Roger Kirby, The Prostate Centre, London