The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper has been dealing with negligence claims against consultant colorectal surgeon Mr Anthony Dixon, who worked at the private Spire Bristol Hospital, as well as the NHS Southmead Hospital and the former Frenchay Hospital, for the last three years. There has been a dramatic rise in the number of new instructions in recent months following a series of patient reviews by Spire Healthcare.
In 2019 Spire launched a formal investigation into the treatment Mr Dixon provided to patients at Spire Bristol Hospital, focusing on whether the surgical recommendations he made were appropriate, informed consent was obtained and the surgery was carried out to an acceptable standard. A clinical advisory group was set up, consisting of four independent colorectal surgeons. As part of the process, Spire offered patients a consultation with one of the experts followed by a formal review of their care.
The patients had all undergone a laparoscopic ventral mesh rectopexy (LVMR), which was described by Mr Dixon as being a simple, straightforward operation that would solve all of their problems while incurring little risk. The LVMR procedure was pioneered by Mr Dixon and involves fixing artificial mesh to lift prolapsed bowels. It is however far from risk free. Some patients have suffered severe damage to their bowel following the procedure such that they required a stoma; spent long periods of time in intensive care; experienced mesh erosion and needed complex surgery to remove the mesh; developed chronic and debilitating pain; or have been left unable to have sexual intercourse. For most, the procedure was not required: Mr Dixon wrongly and inappropriately advised the patients to go ahead.
Elise Bevan, a partner in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, who has been advising on a number of negligence claims against Mr Dixon, comments: “I first became involved in cases concerning Mr Dixon in 2017 and subsequently learnt that Spire had set up a formal review process looking at the patients he treated privately at Spire Bristol Hospital. In 2018 Spire started writing to patients inviting them to have their care formally assessed following which they would receive a letter summarising the outcome of the investigation, including comments on the care provided and whether they had suffered any harm.
“My understanding is that the first of these reviews were completed last year. In September 2020 I was contacted by patients who had received letters from Spire advising them that the care that they had received from Mr Dixon was substandard. It is not clear yet whether Spire has completed all of its reviews – I most recently saw a letter it sent to a patient at the end of March 2021.
“Spire has been under the spotlight over its duty of candour protocols and although the Dixon reviews have taken some time, I am pleased to note that in its letters to patients, Spire has been honest and transparent, as well as offering them the necessary support. Sadly though, the reviews have highlighted that a significant number of patients, both men and women, have suffered harm as a result of inappropriate treatment recommended by Mr Dixon.
“There are common themes across all the claims I am managing. These include Mr Dixon not assessing the type and extent of the problems experienced by his patients; incorrectly or inappropriately recording that they had prolapse of the bowel as justification for surgery when in fact they did not; failing to arrange appropriate tests to investigate the problems; failing to offer and recommend conservative management, which for most patients would have improved their symptoms; wrongly promoting this surgical procedure as being ‘the best thing since sliced bread’; and failing to inform patients of the associated risks. I have also been aware of cases where Mr Dixon performed additional procedures, predominantly gynaecological ones, which were unnecessary or which should have actually been carried out by a specialist gynaecologist.
“Some patients believe Mr Dixon acted in this way for monetary gain - one of my clients used her life savings to fund the surgery – while others consider themselves to have been his ‘guinea pig’. Whatever the motive, he was wrong on many fronts and the sheer number of patients affected is shocking. We all trust that our doctors are making decisions in our best interests but many of Mr Dixon’s patients have now been left with a succession of unanswered questions and little faith in the medical profession.
“We are seeking compensation for both physical and mental injuries relating to the private treatment provided by Mr Dixon. There are time limits for bringing claims and we would therefore urge patients who believe they have a case to seek specialist advice as soon as possible.”