Mr Shortall was diagnosed with bowel cancer in the summer of 2008. He underwent laparoscopic surgery (keyhole surgery) to remove the cancerous section of bowel and to re-join the bowel ends.
The process of re-joining the bowel ends was not performed correctly (which can happen) and the join leaked.
Mr Shortall became profoundly unwell because of this leak, and eight days later had to undergo further extensive surgery to wash out his abdomen and perform a colostomy.
Six months later Mr Shortall underwent more surgery to attempt to reverse the colostomy, but, as a consequence of the scarring in his abdomen and pelvis following the bowel leak, reversal could not be achieved.
He subsequently suffered a catalogue of other surgical procedures over a number of years to address the extensive complications that he has suffered. The consequence of the bowel leak has been devastating for Mr Shortall and he continues to live with those consequences to this day.
Acting for Mr Shortall, medical negligence solicitor Dr James Piers argued that, whilst it is recognised that problems can arise in the formation of the bowel join, to minimise the risk of undetected bowel leak, a simple test should be undertaken during the operation which involves pumping air into the bowel and then looking for bubbles emerging from the join.
This test is informally known as the “bicycle tyre test”. If bubbles are seen, then the surgeon will be able to identify that leak and repair it during the operation.
In Mr Shortall’s case, despite being operated on by two consultants, the bicycle tyre test was not done. Had it been done, then Mr Shortall would have avoided his bowel leak and the subsequent complications that followed.
The hospital Trust defended the case robustly and Mr Shortall’s case proceeded to a five day trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
The Hospital argued that, whilst many surgeons would have undertaken the bicycle tyre test, there was a responsible body of surgeons who, at that time, would not have undertaken the bicycle tyre test, and thus failure to do so fell within the range of acceptable medical practice.
Leigh Day primarily argued that no responsible body of surgeons would have failed to perform the bicycle tyre test. They also argued that even if there was a group of surgeons who, at that time, were not performing the bicycle tyre test, the failure to perform the test would be illogical and unsupportable given that the test carries no substantial risk and has the benefit of significantly reducing the risk of a devastating and potentially life-threatening complication of surgery.
He concluded that, whilst there may have been a body of surgeons who, at the time, may not have undertaken the bicycle tyre test, the Judge could not, “…regard such a group as a ‘responsible body of professional opinion’”.
Following Judgment, Mr Shortall and his legal team of Dr James Piers and Mr Richard Partridge (Serjeants’ Inn Chambers) were able to obtain a settlement for Mr Shortall.
Specialist medical negligence solicitor, Dr James Piers said:
“Whilst any settlement cannot turn the clock back for him, I hope that the settlement will help Mr Shortall to obtain the treatment that he needs to be able to manage his life-long complications.”