Devastating Surgeon’s Mistake: Woman Left Unable to Conceive Naturally

Following the publication of a formal medical report, a mother of young children has described her feelings of desolation caused by the surgical removal of the wrong fallopian tube. Clinical support worker Chelsea Thomas recounted her experiences at Manor Hospital, part of Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, during March 2018.

As confirmed by a subsequent investigation, a gynaecological surgeon removed her healthy left fallopian tube. However, the original diagnosis and the reason for Ms Thomas’s referral was an ectopic pregnancy in her right fallopian tube. Unfortunately, the condition of the latter went unnoticed during the procedure, carried out under general anaesthetic.

Ectopic Pregnancy and Surgical Error

In ectopic pregnancies, the embryo attaches and starts to develop outside the uterus. After her first operation in March 2018, on coming round in the ward, Ms Thomas told nursing staff that she still felt ill. Notably, she continued to be in pain for the rest of that day. Nonetheless, during doctors’ rounds the following morning, the duty surgeon advised her that the operation had been a success.

Shortly after arriving home that same morning, the now discharged patient received a telephone call from hospital staff who, seemingly, had re-read hospital notes and noticed a possible mistake. Their decision to recall the surgical case immediately appeared to reflect a level of urgency. When she arrived back in Manor Hospital shortly afterwards, medical staff prepared the young woman for a repeat maternity ultrasound scan.

On seeing the foetus and a heartbeat on the screen of the scanner in the hospital suite, the mother naturally became tearful. A second and successful operation resolved the ectopic pregnancy. However, apart from the unnecessary removal of a fallopian tube, Ms Thomas heard that she now faced the double blow of not being able to conceive any further children naturally.

Classified as a never event, the error should have been wholly preventable due to national guidance, safety recommendations and systemic barriers for healthcare providers. Lawyers acting on behalf of the affected patient published a specially commissioned report following an internal investigation of the serious incident.

In the detailed findings, experts concluded that the first surgical intervention had lacked due diligence and attention, pointing out that the second surgeon in the follow-up operation found an obvious ectopic pregnancy. Had the original surgeon inspected the length of the right tube, its condition and the previous diagnosis would have been visible, the investigators found.

As a result, the medical director of Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, Dr Matthew Lewis, issued a formal apology for the error. After admitting liability, the trust offered to pay for one round of IVF treatment.

Help for Patients Affected by Medical Errors

Wrong-site operations and medical mistakes look set to continue in a small minority of cases, despite supposed hospital pre-operative checks designed to prevent such errors. If you have experienced such issues, you can find further information about surgical error claims and wrong site surgery here.