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Payout for widow whose husband died after botched spinal operation

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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A mother-of-five has been awarded compensation after her husband died following a spinal operation where a crucial vein was damaged.

Julie Bircham, from Roydon in Essex, said she hopes the payout will ensure that lessons are learned and procedures are changed, to lessen the risk of others finding themselves in similar circumstances. 

Family agreed that the life supporting treatment should be withdrawn

Surgeons

In 2010, after a prolonged period of back pain, IT worker Dean Bircham was referred to consultant orthopaedic and spinal surgeon Ahmed Hussein. Mr Hussain advised that the best course of action would be for the father-of-five to undergo an operation to his spine. This took place at the Rivers Hospital in Sawbridge, Herfordshire in September of the same year. 

During surgery, there were complications and one of Mr Bircham’s veins was damaged, resulting in significant blood loss. He was kept alive, but doctors were unsure of the extent of the brain damage he was likely to have suffered. One week later, after he failed to wake up, his family agreed that treatment should be withdrawn, resulting in his death aged just 51-years-old.

Surgeon failed to seek prompt help from a vascular specialist 

Mr Bircham’s family commenced legal action following his sudden death. His wife told the High Court how the risks of the operation had not been adequately explained to him or his immediate family. All surgery carries the risk of complications, however, back surgery can be particularly problematic. Up to one in every 25 people contract an infection following lumbar surgery, whilst there is a significant risk of blood clots and nerve damage, which in some cases can lead to paralysis. Further, there are risks associated with dural tears, which can lead to a leakage of cerebrospinal fluid, and bleeding on the spinal column. The risks are highly subjective to the circumstances of the individual and the family alleged that they were not fully, or clearly, explained to Mr Bircham before he decided to consent to the procedure.

During the trial, medical experts agreed that the benefits of undergoing the operation, especially in light of the significant risks, were not clear. The experts criticised the medical decision to go ahead with the surgery and Mr Hussein’s decision not to promptly seek help from a vascular surgeon when it was discovered that the vein had been ruptured. 

Mr Hussein did not appear in court in person to defend the claim. 

The High Court ordered Mr Hussain directly to pay the family an undisclosed sum in damages to compensate for their loss. Mrs Bircham has also issued a complaint to the General Medical Council alleging malpractice on the part of Mr Hussain. 

The 55-year-old widow said she hopes that by pursuing legal action, lessons will be learned in the medical profession so her husband’s death may reduce the risk of similar problems affecting others. She said the money will be used to help her family cope financially after their loss, as one of the couple’s children, Lauren, has cerebral palsy and needs round-the-clock care. 

She stated:

“Losing Dean so suddenly has been absolutely devastating for our family. They are all still struggling to come to terms with his death. 

Lauren, who is now 16, had a close bond with her dad and the impact on her since Dean’s death has been significant. She is now rarely able to come out with us as a family as it is too difficult for me to manage her physical needs without Dean’s help.”

After the High Court hearing, a spokesperson for Rivers Hospital said: 

“Rivers Hospital would like to take this opportunity to offer its sincere condolences to Mr Bircham’s family.”

Compensation for victims of medical negligence 

You are entitled to expect a certain standard of treatment from those providing medical assistance to you. If this treatment falls below standard you may be entitled to recover the cost of the private medical treatment needed to correct the failings on the part of those originally treating you. Our goal at IBB Claims is to obtain justice for victims of the negligence by others, by securing compensation that reflects their pain and suffering, as well as related financial losses including loss of earnings, treatment costs and specialist care costs.

If you believe that you have suffered harm from negligence resulting from the actions of your GP, consultant, surgeon, nurse, dentist or other health care provider contact our medical negligence solicitors today. We offer a No-Win No-Fee Agreement so there is no financial risk involved if you are not successful. To discuss your case or to make an appointment please contact us on 0333 123 9099. Alternatively, please email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or complete our online enquiry form.

The information contained within our Blog Articles is provided as general information only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice or seek to be an exhaustive statement of the law and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. For further details, please see our terms of use policy.

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