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Woman died after surgery by two trainees, court told

St Vincent’s University Hospital has apologised to the family of a 76-year-old woman who died after an operation that was supposed to give her a new lease of life.

Freda Fox from Castlerea in Co Roscommon died in September 2017 after losing 17 litres of blood in the operation carried out by two trainee surgeons.

Ms Fox, a mother of six, was described by her family as young at heart and full of life.

Her daughter Paula Fox said her mother was “all about family” and was a great member of her community, who was known and loved by everyone.

She suffered from pancreatitis and on 1 September 2017, she went into St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin for an operation that was supposed to alleviate her condition and give her a new lease of life.

Paula Fox said they believed their mother would be safe and that they would be taking her home to look after her as she recovered from the surgery, “but she never came home”.

Barrister Doireann O’Mahony told the High Court it was a very unfortunate and deeply tragic case.

She said the operation Ms Fox was due to have, known as a Whipple Procedure, is very complex and involves major surgery.

Ms Fox’s operation was being carried out by two trainee surgeons. Consultant Anthony Stafford was not present.

Complications arose after an hour. Ms Fox began bleeding and lost over 17 litres of blood.

Ms O’Mahony told the court “panic ensued” and that the second trainee urged the first trainee to stop what he was doing and call the consultant.

She described it as a “surgical catastrophe for which no one was prepared”.

Ms Fox went into cardiac arrest three times. The surgery was abandoned and she died in intensive care later that evening.

Ms O’Mahony said a review commissioned by St Vincent’s University Hospital referred to “inadequate levels of appropriate supervision of trainees undertaking a complex surgical procedure”.

Family solicitor David O’Malley speaking outside court

This morning, the hospital apologised to the family.

In the apology, which was made without admission of liability, the hospital offered its sincere apologies to Ms Fox’s family and acknowledged the distress and anxiety caused to them.

The case was settled for €200,000, but the court was told it was not about compensation but about ensuring the same thing did not happen to anyone else.

The family’s solicitor David O’Malley said the apology was welcomed, but was hollow without changes being implemented by the hospital.

Mr Justice Paul Coffey offered his deepest sympathy to Ms Fox’s six children and her grandchildren, one of whom, nine-year-old Joshua Coyne, was present in court.

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