• Michael Battersbee died in 2015 after surgery at BMI Shirley Oaks Hospital which should never have accepted his referral
  • Family have launched legal action and coroner has warned of risks to future patient deaths
  • The case is a further example of safety errors in private hospitals for NHS funded patients

A private hospital company is facing legal action by the family of a 28-year-old man who died after an anaesthetist was left “alone and unsupported” following surgery he should never have had, HSJ has learned.

Father of three Michael Battersbee died after undergoing an operation at BMI Healthcare’s Shirley Oaks Hospital in Croydon to treat an epigastric hernia. But Mr Battersbee, who was an NHS patient, should never have been accepted for the surgery because of his weight and obstructive sleep apnoea which meant he was at a higher risk of developing complications.

He was also never assessed by an anaesthetist before the surgery took place in May 2015.

A coroner’s report said Mr Battersbee died because “the level of ventilation during surgery was not adequate and the conduct of resuscitation did not meet standard guidelines.”

Adela Williams, assistant coroner for the South London Area, concluded a narrative verdict in May last year but added: “Expert evidence given at the inquest indicated that a significant contributory factor in Mr Battersbee’s death was the fact that the anaesthetist who administered the anaesthetic for the purposes of his abdominal surgery was alone and unsupported by anaesthetic colleagues to assist when Mr Battersbee, a high risk patient, deteriorated.”

The family of Mr Battersbee are now pursuing legal action against the company after the inquest heard that the contract under which NHS patients were referred to the hospital explicitly stated the private company should have rejected him due to his body mass index being above 40kg/m2.

It is another example of a death of an NHS patient in the private sector contributed to by poor process and system failures, after HSJ reported the case of Peter O’Donnell in April.

Concerns over the safety of independent sector hospitals have also been highlighted by the Care Quality Commission, and prompted a warning to the sector by health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt that the industry must get its “house in order” on quality and safety.

In a report to BMI Healthcare chief executive Jill Watt, the coroner raised the risk of future deaths due to the way the hospital decided on patients who would undergo surgery.

The report said the body mass index limit of 40kg/m2 meant surgery on patients should only be done where there was an intensive care unit available.

The report added: “Precisely the same considerations apply to privately paying patients as to NHS patients and it is therefore unclear why it is considered appropriate to expose privately paying patients with a body mass index of more than 40 kg/m2 to a risk that is viewed as generally unacceptable, irrespective of other individual patient factors, for NHS patients.”

Michael’s mother Wendy Battersbee, who is pursuing a clinical negligence claim against the hospital with the Leigh Day law firm, told HSJ she felt “the whole system is set up to fail” adding: “The idea [private hospitals] are conducting business like this on a regular basis is appalling.”

She said her son was given no warning that there might be a problem with his surgery, adding: “If there had been any indication there would be a problem and if he had known how they were operating I don’t think he would have gone in. They reassured him it would be alright. If he hadn’t gone to the BMI hospital he would be alive today.

“It has affected the family tremendously and his three children didn’t understand what happened.”

A spokesman for BMI Healthcare offered condolences to Mr Battersbee’s family saying: “Mr Battersbee died in 2015, and in the three years since his death we have made several improvements at our hospitals based on both our own investigations and the inquest process.

“These have included strengthening our procedure for managing surgical patients with a high BMI from admission through to discharge, with specific requirements for multidisciplinary assessment ahead of surgery with input from a consultant anaesthetist as required.

“We can confirm that Mr Battersbee’s case was an isolated one. We have always taken patient safety very seriously and continue to do so.”