Yesterday was a Good Day

Yesterday was a good day.

Particularly for one David Sellu.

I don’t know if you know him personally or not.

I don’t, though he worked on my “patch” here in NW London.

But I hope you know his story, because it is frankly terrifying.

In short, in February 2010 he was asked to see a private patient who had recently had a hip replacement and become unwell.

It subsequently turned out that he had a perforated viscus and required a laparotomy.

Unfortunately there were significant delays in both making the definitive diagnosis as well as getting him to theatre and by the time the patient reached the anaesthetic room the following day he was in septic shock, peri-arrest and not fit for a haircut, let alone a laparotomy.

And unfortunately he died.

The whole thing turned into a criminal prosecution in which David Sellu was blamed, convicted of manslaughter and subsequently sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Convicted of manslaughter.

Sent to prison.

If you are a surgeon yourself you will know just how difficult it can sometimes be to get a patient into theatre as an emergency, no matter how sick they are.

And like me you will have had several of your patients die before they even reached theatre as a direct result of delays. Some of which were unavoidable…

…others not so much.

Yet hardly ever does anything seem to be done to prevent those delays, nor is anyone ever held to account. And to be fair often no one person is to blame in any case. Sometimes it’s simply the interia present in any large organisation.

Sad but true.

Still, I was very pleased that the case ended up in front of the court of appeal yesterday.

And they quashed his conviction.

Nothing can bring back that poor patient.

And nothing can give David Sellu back the almost 3 years of hell he must have been through between the patient’s death and the trial.

Nothing can give him back the 15 months he spent in prison.

Nothing can give him back his reputation, or recompense him for an unblemished career ending in ignominy.

Despite his conviction being quashed by the court of appeal, there will always be those who believe there can be “no smoke without fire”. And he will know that.

Nothing will ever be the same for David Sellu, his family, or the family of his patient.

But at least justice has at last been served.

I’m sure every one of you reading this will, like me, be thinking “there but for the grace of God go I”.

And you’re right to think that.

So speak out against the unsafe working practices you encounter every day in your own hospitals. Don’t be complicit in your silence.

Speak out for patient safety. Don’t allow yourself to be fobbed off.

But also speak out for your own safety.

Any one of us could have been in his position on several occasions in our careers.

And if we’re not very, very careful, it could yet be any of us in the future.

Best wishes,

Dev Lall BSc(HONS) MB ChB FRCS(Eng.) FRCS(Gen. Surg.)

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Dev Lall
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