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More than 200 patients ‘harmed’ by bowel surgery, trust admits

More than 200 patients being treated by North Bristol NHS Trust were given unnecessary or premature bowel surgery, a review has found (Ben Birchall/PA)
More than 200 patients being treated by North Bristol NHS Trust were given unnecessary or premature bowel surgery, a review has found (Ben Birchall/PA)

More than 200 patients suffered harm after being given unnecessary bowel operations by a consultant colorectal surgeon, a hospital trust has admitted.

Dozens of people were left in severe pain after Tony Dixon gave them pelvic floor surgery using artificial mesh at two hospitals in Bristol.

The surgeon was suspended in 2017 after concerns were first raised, and sacked by North Bristol NHS Trust in 2019.

Mr Dixon pioneered the use of artificial mesh to lift prolapsed bowels, a technique known as laparoscopic ventral mesh rectopexy (LVMR), which is often caused by childbirth.

He performed the operations at the trust’s Southmead Hospital, and also at the Spire Hospital – a private facility, where NHS patients were regularly referred for treatment.

On Thursday, North Bristol NHS Trust published the results of a review of its patients that underwent LMVR surgery from Mr Dixon at the two hospitals between 2007 and 2017.

It found 203 cases where, although the operation had been carried out satisfactorily, the patient should have been offered alternative treatment before proceeding to surgery.

As a result, these patients were deemed to have come to harm by the trust.

Of these premature or unnecessary operations, 110 were performed at Southmead Hospital, and 93 were carried out at Spire.

A further 175 patients who underwent the procedure were found to have received appropriate care, and therefore come to no harm.

The findings were published in the North Bristol NHS Trust’s public trust board papers on Thursday.

Mandy Giltrow
Mandy Giltrow suffered more than a decade of complications arising from the surgery (Irwin Mitchell/PA)

The trust said it had conducted a “large scale recall of patients” and was in the process of implementing changes to its record systems to make it easier to conduct such reviews in future.

Mandy Giltrow, a customer services manager, underwent the surgery in 2011, and had two subsequent procedures in 2013 and 2014.

Ms Giltrow, 49, still suffers frequent stomach and bowel pain, recurrent urinary infections, and also a hernia near her surgery scars.

Speaking after the results of the review were made public, she said: “I’ve really struggled to come to terms with everything that’s happened and remain devastated with how everything has turned out.

“I’m now in a lot of pain and I feel the surgery that I’ve had has done nothing to improve my condition.

“Having to undergo further procedures was difficult and the whole ordeal has really had a massive impact on me. My mental health really took a turn for the worse.”

She continued: “While nothing can make up for what’s happened I feel I deserved answers so at least I could try and begin to understand what happened.

“I just hope steps can be taken so no one else is affected in the future.”

Another woman who was given the procedure in 2010 to treat Chron’s disease has warned she now needs reconstructive bowel surgery.

I want to apologise again to all patients who received surgery for rectal prolapse unnecessarily – it was completely unacceptable.

She described the last 10 years as “a nightmare”, adding:  “Life now seems a battle. I’m virtually reliant on my family for support.

“I’m no longer able to lift anything heavier than a kettle with a cup of water in it because lifting puts a strain on my scar tissue and stoma.”

The woman said: “I get emotional when I think too much about what’s happened to me. It’s not just the physical pain of what I’ve been through but also the emotional torment.

“That other people are in a similar position to me is particularly worrying.”

North Bristol NHS Trust chief medical officer Tim Whittlestone said: “I want to apologise again to all patients who received surgery for rectal prolapse unnecessarily – it was completely unacceptable.

“In response to patient feedback, we suspended and then dismissed Mr Dixon, and we have been giving ongoing support to patients where needed.

“We have now concluded a thorough and robust review which has led to us making a series of changes to prevent anything like this happening again.”

Irwin Mitchell, the firm of solicitors representing around 80 of Mr Dixon’s patients, said its clients had been vindicated by the trust’s findings.

Luke Trevorrow, a medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell said: “While we welcome the Trust’s transparency in publishing its findings and its pledge to learn lessons, it’s vital that meaningful action is now taken to improve patient safety.

“This includes learning lessons from those patients who have reported suffering significant harm, but who received treatment other than by LVMR.”