‘Reckless’ Whittington weight-loss surgeon struck off after six patient deaths

Kim Blake with her daughter Chloe. Photo curtesy of the Blake family.

Kim Blake with her daughter Chloe. Photo curtesy of the Blake family. - Credit: Archant

A heartbroken Kentish Town mother said a leading weight-loss surgeon who showed “reckless disregard” whilst caring for her daughter at had “got what he deserved” following news he has been struck off.

Kim Blake with her family

Kim Blake with her family - Credit: Archant

Janet Blake broke down as she relived the last moments of her daughter’s life.

Kim Blake was subject to a catalogue of mistakes made by Dugal Heath, gastrointestinal surgeon a The Whittington Hospital.

Janet, from Kentish Town, said: “I am happy he has been struck off. You put your lives in these people’s hands and you trust them, you don’t expect them to make mistakes. If one more person had to die because of his mistakes it would have been awful.”

Heath was struck off the medical register after six of his patients died in two years.

A Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) hearing proved Heath had made dozens of mistakes, including causing internal injuries from clumsy use of surgical equipment and “rough” handling of patients, poor suturing, incorrect surgeries and illegible medical notes.

The hearing ruled Heath’s care of the patients “fell seriously below the standards expected” and “put patients a risk of harm.” The panel expressed concern that Heath’s skills were so poor considering his 30 years of experience.

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When Kim, who was 33 when she died and a young mother herself, fell ill following a gastric bypass, Heath disregarded her complaints as “psychological” despite her showing clinical signs of “post operative mechanical problems”.

Janet said: “She wasn’t making it up! When you love someone you know when they are in a lot of pain and she wasn’t imagining it. She was very unwell and could only have small amounts of fluid without gagging and being in pain. She was in and out of the Whittington but Heath wasn’t doing enough so she went to University College London Hospital (UCLH).”

Kim had a bypass in January 2010 and endured two further surgeries in an attempt to rectify a blockage in her intestine which went unnoticed by Heath.

By December, Kim’s weight had plummeted dangerously and severe pain left her in intensive care at UCLH where she later suffered a cardiac arrest.

Janet described the devastating moment: “The doctors asked us if we would mind leaving for a bit so they could insert a feeding tube so we went to get lunch and I said ‘bye Kim, see you later’. She was chatting and joking with the nurses like she did.

“We were gone for an hour and when we got back I saw a team of people around her trying to resuscitate her. She had a heart attack just after we left the hospital and they had been trying to resuscitate her for an hour.”

Kim’s daughter, Chloe, was just seven when her mother died and now lives with her grandparents.

Speaking of her granddaughter, who is now at Haverstock School, Ms Blake said: “It’s hard for Chloe, she misses her Mum and she has tough times, mainly at night.

“Kim decided to get surgery after struggling with her weight all her life, even as a child. We thought she was fine but she wasn’t happy with the way she looked and she always got called names. We weren’t keen on her having the operation.

“Kim was such a wonderful daughter, she was always such a laugh and we miss her every day.”

The Whittington Hospital is now facing legal action.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said it is “truly sorry” to the bereaved families and added: “Mr Heath has been excluded from working at Whittington Health since December 2012 while investigations were carried out into his practice. We informed the GMC about our decision to exclude Mr Heath and have cooperated fully with their investigation.

“The safety of our patients remains our first priority. Since Mr Heath’s exclusion we have worked closely with our clinical staff to improve our bariatrics service and ensure it delivers the highest standards of patient safety and care. Changes to practice include specialist bariatrics training for medical and nursing staff, a 24 hour on site senior doctor presence to assess and provide immediate care in an emergency and escalation plans directly to a consultant for bariatrics patients.

“We are truly sorry to the families and patients affected.”