An NHS surgeon was sacked after a patient was accidentally set on fire during an operation has won almost £65,000 in a race and unfair dismissal claim.
Breast specialist Obi Iwuchukwu, 57, was suspended after a woman sustained significant burns whilst he operated on her in August 2013.
Mr Obi Iwuchukwu had used an alcohol antiseptic on the patient that ignited like a flash of lightning when he then endeavoured to use a heated surgical tool to sterile wounds.
All personnel involved in the incident at the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Trust hospital received counselling, an employment tribunal heard.
More than five years later, after a long legal action, the surgeon has won compensation, successfully demonstrating that he’d been unjustly dismissed and racially discriminated against by the hospital trust.
However, the damages he will get are nowhere near the £5 million he was originally seeking.
The latest tribunal in Newcastle heard that Mr Iwuchukwu, formerly from Nigeria, began work in Sunderland as a general surgeon with an interest to breast surgery in 2007.
During his time there he had several run-ins with co-workers, the panel was told.
This involved an incident in which he clashed with a German co-worker who told him that they weren’t working out of a hut in the Congo, which Mr Iwuchukwu answered that Britain was not like Nazi Germany.
The tribunal also heard how co-workers had started to have concerns about Mr Iwuchukwu’s performance, in particular the number of complications his patients suffered after surgery. Then on a fateful day in August 2013, a grave incident took place during an operation he was conducting.
The tribunal panel was told that during the operation he was handed alcohol, rather than an aqueous, based antiseptic solution which he applied to the patient.
He then used a diathermy pen which targets electrically induced heat to prevent the wound from bleeding. It ignited the alcohol preparation and the patient suffered a significant burn.
It was described in the subsequent investigation as though a flash of lightning had entered the theatre. All staff were given counselling.
The hospital suspended Mr Iwuchukwu, the only black man of African birth working there, and began a string of investigations before concluding in November that year that system error rather than individual human error was mostly to blame.
Despite this, the hospital continued with the surgeon’s suspension without evaluating whether he could return to work in some fashion.
He had various problems with his co-workers and patients – would you want him operating on you? And it’s of no surprise the NHS is short of money because of all these payouts, and no one stated how much the patient was paid out.
The surgeon was given the wrong solution by another member of staff whilst operating. It wasn’t his job to check, the operating theatre should have been kitted out for that particular surgery before he even entered the room, and then suddenly it became a racist matter, but what about the poor patient?
However, patients do sign consent forms before any surgeries, in case something goes wrong, although I’m sure it didn’t say on the form ‘In case we set you on fire’.