THE son of a victim of botched eye surgery performed by a private firm at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton has exposed fresh controversies in the saga.
Chris Newcombe’s 84-year-old father, who lives near Langport, was among dozens of patients who suffered complications after cataract surgery by Vanguard Healthcare in May.
The company was contracted to perform operations on May 2 to reduce a backlog of cataract patients at the hospital.
But when 31 of 62 patients operated on at Vanguard’s mobile unit experienced blurred vision and swollen corneas, the £320,000 contract for 400 operations was terminated after four days.
One in 400 patients usually experiences such side effects.
The 84-year-old’s surgery was on the fourth day, Friday, May 9, AFTER the most senior staff at Musgrove’s ophthalmology department formally lodged concerns with the hospital’s managing trust about systemic problems in the work being carried out by Vanguard, and saying it should cease immediately, Mr Newcombe has discovered.
He is now seeking answers as to how Vanguard’s operations were able to continue.
The octogenarian was treated under local anaesthetic in a procedure that "felt very rushed" his son relays.
Mr Newcombe said: "It was clear the complete failure in his eyesight was not normal.
"Musgrove confirmed there had indeed been some complications with my father's procedure.”
He said his parents had “only praise and admiration” for Musgrove's ophthalmology department, which has picked up the pieces after Vanguard's failures.
Only a cornea transplant can restore his father's sight.
Mr Newcombe added: “My father is traumatised and depressed with the loss of his eyesight.
“Previous pleasures of gardening and watching sport on the TV have now been taken away from him.
“This could have been prevented if the welfare of the patients had been thought about, rather than this urgency of just getting people through.”
Musgrove's patient build-up is said to have resulted from an influx of emergency patients in the winter of 2012/13, along with struggles to replace medical ophthalmology staff who had left.
Musgrove's medical director, Dr Colin Close, has acknowledged the hospital could be hit by a wave of compensation claims for Vanguard's errors, though it is hoped most patients will recover fully after follow-up visits.
He told the County Gazette in May: “Any financial responsibility would rest with us.
“If any patients wish to pursue compensation, we would work with them."
A Musgrove spokeswoman said: “Due to the ongoing nature of our investigations it would be inappropriate for us to comment in detail on the sequence of events surrounding the unfortunate complications experienced by our patients receiving cataract surgery with Vanguard Healthcare in their mobile theatre onsite at Musgrove Park Hospital.
“Our first and foremost concern has always been our patients, and particularly those who have experienced complications.
“We have been in very close contact with them since the incident to ensure they are fully informed with our progress and receive the highest quality aftercare and treatment.
“We will want to discuss the outcomes of our investigations with them first, once they have reached conclusion.
“We want to take this opportunity to reassure all patients coming to Musgrove Park Hospital that we are confident that they will receive the highest levels of care throughout their treatment with us.”
Laurence Vick, head of clinical negligence at Exeter-based Michelmores Solicitors, which is pursuing a legal claim for the patient, gave credit to Musgrove for "stepping up to the plate."
He said: “From the taxpayer's point of view, it would be totally unreasonable for Vanguard to walk away from this scandal with only their reputation, and not their [investment], damaged.”
The Judicial Studies Board's guidance on personal injury claims indicates Musgrove could potentially be liable to pay thousands of pounds in compensation to affected patients.
It advises that between £27,000 and £30,000 could be claimed by an individual for the complete loss of sight in one eye, and between £13,000 and £21,000 for “serious but incomplete” loss of vision in one eye.
Ian Gillespie, Vanguard Healthcare's chief executive, said: “Patient care is our number one priority.
"We'd like to assure patients that we are working closely with the Trust to understand and investigate the root causes of any complications."
Affected patients can contact Musgrove's Patient Advice and Liaison Service on 01823-343536.