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Death-case surgeon tells inquest he was 'not careful enough'

By Claire Regan

Published 13/10/2004

A senior surgeon who admitted perforating a patient's bowel during a routine operation has told an inquest into her death that he was not careful enough.

A senior surgeon who admitted perforating a patient's bowel during a routine operation has told an inquest into her death that he was not careful enough.

Neil McClure, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, "freely admitted" injuring 31-year-old Janine Murtagh's bowel as he gave evidence to Belfast Coroner's Court yesterday.

Mrs Murtagh, an auxiliary nurse at the hospital, died on November 18, 2002, six weeks after Prof McClure carried out a laparoscopy on her at the Royal Maternity Hospital to investigate fertility problems and pelvic pain.

The surgeon, who had been the Co Antrim woman's consultant since she suffered an ectopic pregnancy four years earlier, accidentally tore her bowel during the surgery on October 7, causing its contents to spill into her abdomen.

This fatal complication went unnoticed until late the following day when the patient from Laurelvale, Crumlin, fell critically ill.

She then endured a six-hour wait to undergo emergency corrective surgery - a delay which an internal Royal investigation said contributed significantly to her death.

Giving evidence to Belfast Coroner's Court yesterday, Prof McClure "freely admitted" that he had torn Mrs Murtagh's bowel during an operation which became more complicated than first expected after he found "severe adhesions" throughout her abdomen.

"I proceeded with extremely careful dissection, I believe I was a very careful surgeon," he said.

"My assistant thought I was tedious and over-careful. I know now I was not careful enough.

"I made a hole in this lady's bowel - I freely admit that."

Professor Robert Shaw, a leading consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Derby City General Hospital, carried out an independent investigation on behalf of Belfast Coroner John Leckey.

One of his many scathing criticisms of the Royal's care of Mrs Murtagh was that Prof McClure did not carry out a routine examination of her abdomen when he visited her three and a half hours after surgery.

Prof McClure said he was reluctant to because he "had cold hands" and this would have irritated her.

"I made the decision not to examine the patient's abdomen because this would have involved pulling up this lady's nightdress and placing cold hands on her because I do have cold hands."

At hearing.

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