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Family of man who died after surgery delay calls Sussex NHS trust apology ‘hollow’

The family of a man who needlessly died after a 12-hour delay in surgery have called for changes at a troubled NHS trust as regulators expressed alarm about patient safety and waiting times.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) upgraded the surgery department at the Royal Sussex county hospital in Brighton from “inadequate” to “requires improvement” at a time when it is at the centre of a police investigation into dozens of patient deaths, allegations of negligence and cover-up.

In their report, the regulator expressed concern about already long and lengthening waiting times, repeated cancelled operations and staff shortages that could compromise safety.

The inspection report comes as the Guardian can reveal the trust apologised and settled with the family of Ralph Sims, who died aged 65 after heart surgery in April 2019 when doctors failed to act appropriately to a drop in his blood pressure.

Sims, who was a keen runner, suffered a drop in blood pressure and developed an irregular heart rhythm eight hours after surgery to replace an aortic valve at the hospital.

An internal investigation into Sims’ treatment acknowledged that hospital staff failed to “recognise the significance of the fall in blood pressure”.

University Hospitals Sussex NHS foundation trust, which runs the hospital, accepted that the father of three should have returned to surgery to identify the cause of his deterioration. Instead, medics decided that he should be observed overnight.

Due to another emergency case, an angiogram was not carried out on Sims until just before noon the following day – 12 hours after the drop in pressure. The delay caused irreversible – and avoidable – heart muscle damage, leading to his death five weeks later.

The family said: It 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.”

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Source: The Guardian, 14 February 2024


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