Doctor faces action over C-section drug blunder

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A DOCTOR faces disciplinary action after failing to give a woman an anaesthetic for a caesarean section.

The woman, who was a patient at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, told a General Medical Council hearing she had been in pain during the procedure.

French medic Dr Jacques Henri Jean Marie Vallet was working as a consultant anaesthetist at St John’s when the woman, known only as Patient A, was admitted for the elective caesarean.

He had been contracted from an agency to provide short-term cover for NHS Lothian, but was never directly employed by the health board.

The GMC panel heard Dr Vallet had injected a powerful painkiller, diamorphine, into the woman’s spinal cavity but failed to administer a local anaesthetic to numb the region.

Dr Paul Mills, the operating surgeon, told the hearing he halted the procedure twice after suspecting the woman was experiencing “sensation and discomfort” and asked Dr Vallet if it was “safe to continue” but he had assured him it was.

Anaesthetist Dr Shona Neal told the panel that when she returned to the operating theatre on November 30, 2009, after being bleeped on her pager by Dr Vallet, he told her he realised he had used “excessive diamorphine and no local anaesthetic” when administering the patient’s spinal block.

Nonetheless, Dr Vallet did not communicate his error to the operating team and, instead of administering a general anaesthetic, he injected the patient with propofol to sedate her.

Dr Neal recorded in her medical notes, dated December 1, 2009, that the patient “does not really remember much of events of yesterday although remembers being sore at start of C-section”.

The panel also heard that Dr Vallet forgot to switch on the patient’s oxygen supply.

Consultant anaesthetist Dr Lynn Carragher said when she arrived in the operating theatre she noticed the woman’s oxygen level had dropped to 86-87 per cent – low for a healthy young person.

Dr Carragher realised that, although the patient was wearing an oxygen mask, the machine supplying the gas had not been switched on. Once turned on, the patient’s oxygen levels returned to a “satisfactory level”.

In its findings, the GMC panel said: “Dr Mills stated that at no point was he informed by Dr Vallet that a drug error had been made.

“Dr Vallet told him he was safe to continue with the procedure. He stated that, had he been told by Dr Vallet there was an error, his actions would have been different.”

The panel adjourned a decision on disciplinary proceedings until today. Dr Vallet, who now lives in Hereford, could be suspended or struck off.