Sister doubts hospital's safety

18:58, Dec 17 2012

The sister of a Picton woman who died during surgery no longer believes patients are safe at Wairau Hospital because of the way the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board has dealt with complaints following the death.

Rachel Riddell was 31 when she died from major blood loss in January last year after gall bladder surgery by general surgeon Michael Parry.

Her sister, Lynn Weir, is pleased the police are investigating Mr Parry and hopes this will help her grieving family understand what went wrong.

"The board has appeared to back [Mr Parry] so strongly that it makes me doubt the system," Ms Weir said.

"Had they been open and honest, I would feel more confident."

Ms Weir complained to the Health and Disability Commission on behalf of the family, with help from advocate Adrien Pitcon-Mason, of Picton.


She said her sister's death was not an isolated incident. Angie Webber and a second woman had also complained about their treatment after being transferred to Christchurch Hospital when gall-bladder operations by Mr Parry in December 2010 and February 2011 went wrong.

"How can the board continue to have confidence in a surgeon when three women have botched surgery in three months? One dies and two are shipped to Christchurch for repairs," Ms Weir said.

Both Ms Webber and the other woman had laid complaints with the health and disability commissioner, which referred them to the Medical Council.

Board chief medical officer Heather McPherson told the Express in December last year that Mr Parry was still employed at the Blenheim hospital.

Because Ms Webber and the second woman's complications arose in a relatively short time frame, the board had arranged for surgeons from a larger health board to review his practice, including directly supervising him during laparoscopic surgeries, Dr McPherson said.

"The organisation has confidence in the surgeon's ability to undertake assigned clinical duties, including laparoscopic surgery safely and competently," she said.

A month later, the board asked to withdraw this statement.

The Medical Council, acting on the complaints from the two women, ordered in March that Dr Parry's performance be assessed. He continued to operate at Wairau Hospital until he was stood down on full pay when patient Jim Nicholls died of massive blood loss after surgery on May 24.

Coroner Carla na Nagara began an inquiry last month into a death at the hospital, believed to be Ms Riddell's, and then announced on December 7 that she was adjourning the process so the police could run their own investigation into at least one death.

Dr McPherson has maintained that the quality of service at Wairau Hospital is of a "good standard" and patient safety was the highest priority.

Ms Weir said her sister had expected to return home the same day from straightforward keyhole surgery done through small incisions. However, Mr Parry switched to open surgery part-way through the operation.

About 3pm that day, Ms Weir received a phone-call saying her sister was in serious trouble and was returning to surgery. She died at 7pm.

Raised as a Jehovah's Witness but no longer practising, Ms Riddell had requested "bloodless" surgery, which means blood from other people cannot be used for any transfusions.

Ms Weir said she had many questions about her sister's care, which she hoped the police could help answer. These included where the bleeding came from and whether Wairau Hospital was properly equipped to deal with an emergency during bloodless surgery, which is becoming popular internationally.

The Nelson Mail