Husband died after North Devon District Hospital surgery complications

Don Kersey died during surgery at North Devon District Hospital. Credit: BPM Media

The death of a critically ill man at North Devon District Hospital has resulted in a series of changes to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring.

Don Kersey died during emergency surgery at the hospital in February 2017.

The 76-year-old was critically ill and was expected to be transferred to Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton for further treatment.

But he remained at the hospital in North Devon amid fears he would not survive the 90 minute transfer in an ambulance.

Mr Kersey was a patient at North Devon District Hospital. Credit: BPM Media

On-call vascular surgeon Dr David Williams decided to perform emergency surgery on Mr Kersey, who later suffered a cardiac arrest and died.

At an inquest into the 76-year-old’s death, Dr Williams explained he had three choices to make regarding Mr Kersey’s treatment - to request an ambulance and send him to Taunton, to wait and do a scan or “salvage” the situation in surgery.

He said he did not think it was safe for Mr Kersey to be taken to Musgrove Park by ambulance, so decided to operate.

"My general feeling was two hours later he would be in a very poor condition and possibly would not survive,” he told the inquest at Exeter's County Hall.

'A lot of concerning evidence'

He admitted the outcome of the surgery - which resulted in two cardiac arrests - showed his approach was “incorrect”.

Independent expert professor Frank Smith, who is a consultant vascular surgeon, described communication between the two hospitals as “relatively poor”.

He said Mr Kersey should have been taken directly to Musgrove Park, which is better equipped to deal with complex vascular cases, and suggested the 76-year-old “probably” would have survived the ambulance transfer.

An independent expert suggested Mr Kersey "probably" would have survived an ambulance transfer to Musgrove Park in Taunton.

He also said Mr Williams’ actions were taken in the best interests of the patient.

Coroner Philip Spinney, who recorded a narrative conclusion, said: "Don died as a consequence of complications during emergency surgery." 

Speaking after the inquest, Oliver Thorne, partner at Slee Blackwell Solicitors who represented the family during the two-day hearing, said: “The coroner has conducted a very thorough investigation of the facts into this case and while the evidence that we’ve heard over the two days was somewhat limited - understandably due to the nature of such an inquiry - there was a lot of concerning evidence that didn’t come to light.

"The family hope now that lessons have been learned from this tragic outcome and the provision of vascular surgery in North Devon has been improved as a result.

"Civil proceedings have been concluded and compensation has been paid by both trusts to the family and a formal apology has been made by Northern Devon Healthcare Trust after they confirmed they wouldn’t be disputing liability for Mr Kersey’s death.”

North Devon District Hospital have been approached for a comment.