'This doctor was supposed to cure me... instead I'm in agony' (2024)

A mum who was operated on by a Manchester surgeon claims she has been living in chronic pain for 19 years since the procedure.

Emily Bhogal is among a number of patients who claim treatment from spinal surgeon John Bradley Williamson left them with long-term consequences.

Mr Williamson worked at Salford Royal Hospital, the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and Spire Manchester Hospital in a decades-long career.

But reviews into his work have found that he had caused 'severe harm' to patients across the region, including a 17-year-old who died. Emily is not among the patients who have been identified by reviews as having been caused harm by Mr Williamson.

But the 30-year-old mother-of-one, who was 11 when Mr Williamson treated her, claims she lives in 'agonising pain' and has instructed solicitors.

'This doctor was supposed to cure me... instead I'm in agony' (1)

Emily underwent surgery performed by Mr Williamson in 2005 to have two metal rods inserted for a curvature of the spine at the former Pendlebury Children’s Hospital – now Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

However, following the surgery, Emily, who was not in pain beforehand, claims she started to suffer with back pain.

About a week after the operation, Emily collapsed and was rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties. She underwent treatment for a life threatening haemothorax - a build-up of blood - where one-and-a-half litres was drained from her chest.

Subsequently, Emily, of Up Holland, near Wigan, continued to suffer with back pain. Her parents took her to further consultations with Mr Williamson and other surgeons in 2006, she claims.

However, X-rays taken before her initial surgery had been lost so the other surgeons were unable to analyse her care, Emily claims. At the time her parents tried to complain about her care, but Emily says they felt ignored.

Following years of discomfort, Emily claims her condition deteriorated further since she gave birth in 2023, meaning she struggles to look after her daughter Aurelia and is reliant on her husband, an NHS doctor.

“It feels like my life has been one of living in agonising pain since my surgery," she said. "I only sleep for a few hours each night and getting out of bed is difficult because of the pain. I struggle to walk for the first few hours of each day, though the stiffness and cramps ease over a few hours of movement, the pain continues.

“I struggle to look after Aurelia, or even pick her up and cuddle her. When my husband is at work at night, I stay with my parents. I am worried I will not be able to get out of bed quickly enough to care for our daughter .

“For years myself and my parents had concerns and tried to complain. However, each time my parents did they weren’t really acknowledged. It felt like we were being ignored in the hope everything would blow over.

“It was only after seeing various reports about an investigation into the surgeon did the full seriousness of everything become apparent."

'This doctor was supposed to cure me... instead I'm in agony' (3)

The surgeon’s work across the three hospitals has been under examination for several years, including from internal and independent reviews.

Those cases include a ‘surgical catastrophe’, where 17-year-old patient Catherine O’Connor died from complications during surgery at Salford Royal Hospital. Mr Williamson ‘misled [a] coroner’ over the 2007 death, an independent investigation found.

Back in 2021, an inquiry was launched into the former consultant and his treatment of some 130 patients at Salford Royal between 2009 and 2014. The inquiry found Mr Williamson repeatedly exercised ‘unacceptable and unprofessional behaviour’, carried out surgeries with misplaced screws in patients’ spines, and left patients with serious blood loss, long term pain and mobility issues.

The inquiry found there were seven cases of severe harm and 13 of moderate harm.

'This doctor was supposed to cure me... instead I'm in agony' (4)

In February this year, Manchester Children’s Hospital shared the findings of its own review of 56 patients, showing it too had patients which suffered ‘severe harm’ after being treated by Mr Williamson. There was no evidence of apologies offered to those patients – and ‘this lack of formal acknowledgement of complications may have contributed to a lack of recognition of their frequency or severity arising through the care’ of Mr Williamson, the review found.

Spire Healthcare has extended its recall of patients operated on by Mr Williamson at the private provider’s Manchester hospital, to include patients dating back to 1998.

The latest major review into Mr Williamson’s NHS work was published back in March. It was commissioned by the Northern Care Alliance (NCA), the trust which operates Salford Royal Hospital, in 2022 after a 'significant concern' was raised by staff.

The trust instructed barrister Carlo Breen to undertake an independent investigation to look at historic concerns and complaints dating back to 2007.

Of the late 17-year-old Catherine O’Connor’s case, referred to as ‘Patient A’, Mr Breen stated in the report: "I accept and rely upon the expert evidence of Independent Expert A in concluding that Patient A’s death was caused by the failure of [Mr Williamson] to organise a second consultant for surgery, which compounded the risks and led to higher than usual blood loss."

The review also found ‘there was a missed opportunity to abandon surgery earlier which may have enabled control of bleeding and successful resuscitation’ of the patient. Mr Williamson then ‘misled the coroner as to the severity of the quantity of blood lost in Patient A's surgery’, said the review.

Mr Williamson reacted to the report by saying: "There are findings and conclusions with which I do not agree."

READ MORE: Manchester hospital issues recall message to patients dating back 26 years after shocking findings

After news of investigations into Mr Williamson’s practice emerged in recent years, Emily Bhogal asked for a review of her care from Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

She also asked to be reviewed by a spinal surgeon. Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) did not arrange an appointment, so instead Emily spoke with her GP who arranged for her to be referred.

'This doctor was supposed to cure me... instead I'm in agony' (5)

Emily says she now wants ‘full and proper answers’, as her condition continues to have an impact on her life.

She claims that after she urged a review of her care, MFT looked into her treatment based on her medical records. But she dismayed to learn that the trust found she had experienced ‘no harm’ because of her spinal surgery.

A letter from MFT, dated February 2024 and seen by Emily’s lawyers, noted a ‘good correction’ of her spine and that the position of rods and screws were ‘appropriate’.

But Emily claims that after she got the results back from MFT’s review of her case, she received another letter - dated just two weeks later - from her current spinal surgeon at a different NHS trust. That communication included X-ray, CT and MRI scans and Emily is hopeful that this will help her case.

She has now instructed medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to further investigate, hoping for answers and access to specialist treatment.

“I hoped that the children’s hospital review would help me finally get to the bottom of everything. However, I wasn’t examined in person, nor any scans or X-rays taken," said Emily.

“When I received the letter, I couldn’t believe it. To make matters worse, I then received the letter from my surgeon.

“Because of that I can’t accept the findings of the children’s hospital. Not only has it left me upset and angry but also concerned everyone has received the same blanket letter and patients aren’t receiving thorough reviews.

“It feels like the children’s hospital is trying to brush things under the carpet again. That’s why I need full and proper answers. It’s the least I deserve.”

'This doctor was supposed to cure me... instead I'm in agony' (6)

A spokesperson for Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust said: “The scope of our review was developed with consideration of the National Quality Board’s Recall Framework. We understand Mrs Bhogal has concerns about the findings of this process and we’re happy to meet with her to discuss her treatment and the findings of our review.

“Any former patient of Surgeon A, whether in scope of the review or not, can ask us to review their care. They can do this by contacting us at spinal.review@mft.nhs.uk or by calling 0161 701 5659.”

Meanwhile, lawyers claim they have been hearing from a 'growing number' of former patients.

Catherine Slattery, an expert medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Emily and other patients operated on by Mr Williamson, said: “Various reports into Mr Williamson’s practice have identified worrying issues in the care some patients received. However, these only cover a certain timeframe of Mr Williamson’s practice.

“We continue to hear a growing number of first-hand accounts from Emily and others regarding the issues they live with. While some of those patients underwent surgery in the review period, many like Emily fall outside of that period.

“All those patients we represent have legitimate and serious concerns about the surgery they received, irrespective of when they underwent operations. Their stories also appear to highlight how each case isn’t just a statistic but a real-life story of lives being severely affected.

“What’s particularly perturbing for Emily is the apparent contradictory information she has been given. This has added to her distress and left her with more questions and fears regarding the review process and whether the most thorough and transparent investigations are being held.

“All patients deserve the same answers, and where appropriate, access to redress as well as the specialist support and rehabilitation they require."

Mr John Bradley Williamson responded to Emily’s story saying: “In reviewing cases from 26 years ago, it is important to recognise that standards in many aspects of practice have changed considerably since 1998.

“I have always made patient care my first priority and recent reports of reviews have acknowledged evidence of good outcomes, some in very complex cases.”

'This doctor was supposed to cure me... instead I'm in agony' (2024)
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