Hospital admits failings in care for ‘avoidable’ patient death, law firm says

A hospital being investigated for alleged cases of medical negligence has admitted failings of care for a patient who died in 2019, a law firm has said.

The family of Ralph Sims are urging the trust which runs Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton to improve patient safety following their father’s “unnecessary” death.

Mr Sims (pictured) suffered a sudden drop in blood pressure and irregular heart rhythm around eight hours after heart surgery, caused by a blood clot that reduced blood flow to his heart.

An internal NHS investigation seen by medical negligence lawyers Irwin Mitchell revealed hospital staff failed to “recognise the significance of the fall in blood pressure”.

University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust accepted the 65-year-old should have been taken back to the operating theatre, but medics instead observed the father-of-three overnight, and did not refer the case to an on-call cardiology consultant, contrary to the unit’s policy.

When Mr Sims had an X-ray to check his blood vessels more than 12 hours later, lawyers said he had suffered “irreversible, and otherwise avoidable, heart muscle damage”.

The marathon runner was in intensive care for two weeks before being transferred to a unit for a heart transplant, but was too ill to have the surgery and died five weeks after his initial operation, on May 25, 2019.

Irwin Mitchell lawyers said the trust apologised to Mr Sims’ family for the failings in his care.

Thomas Riis-Bristow, a specialist medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Ralph’s loved ones continue to be deeply traumatised by his death.

“Worrying failings have been admitted by the trust. Every minute counts in cardiac surgery and the longer reduced blood flow is left untreated the more damage is caused to the cardiac muscle over time.

“Tragically, in Ralph’s case, had he received adequate care, his death would have been entirely avoidable. This is the impossible reality that his family must now face.

“It’s now vital that the hospital trust learns lessons from the failings Ralph suffered to improve patient safety for others. Ralph’s family don’t want others to suffer another needless tragedy.”

In a statement issued by Irwin Mitchell, Mr Sims’ family described him as a wonderful husband and father “adored” by all his family, and a keen runner who used his love of running to raise money for charity.

They said: “While heart surgery isn’t something minor, when he went into hospital we never imagined the events that unfolded and he’d never come home.

“Seeing him in those final weeks was so upsetting. Ralph was a genuinely kind man who didn’t deserve to suffer and die in the way he did.

“The hardest thing to try to come to terms with is that Ralph’s death should have been avoided.”

They added: “Whilst the trust has apologised to our family it feels hollow. Ralph’s death was entirely unnecessary, and despite the issues in his care, it took the trust several years to apologise.

“The best thing the trust can now do is to ensure guidelines and protocols are followed.The outcome could have been very different if these things had been done, as they should have.”

The settlement comes as Sussex Police are investigating alleged cases of medical negligence, including around 40 people’s deaths, at the Royal Sussex County Hospital from 2015 to 2021.

The claims concern alleged failings in neurosurgery and general surgery.

Claims of medical negligence were made by two consultant surgeons who lost their jobs after blowing the whistle about patient safety, The Guardian previously reported.

Mr Riis-Bristow added: “Upholding the highest standards of care should always be the fundamental priority for hospital trusts, therefore, the ongoing police investigation is very concerning.

“It’s vital that families who may have concerns following this latest development also receive the care and support they may need to get through this difficult time and that the police are also allowed to carry out their investigation unhindered.”

A spokesperson for University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have extended our condolences, and apologies, to the Sims family for their loss and the tremendous upset they have suffered.

“The care given to Mr Sims in 2019 was not of the standard that he and his family should have been able to expect, and we are deeply sorry for that.”

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