Woman’s £15,000 payout after botched tummy tuck left her with gaping wound
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A Gorleston woman has been handed a £15,000 payout after a botched tummy tuck at a private hospital left her with a reeking open wound.
Laura Bell, 45, was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in 2004, which led to weight gain and male hormones which caused extra hair to grow on her face and body.
Feeling robbed of her femininity, the account and business manager - who at her heaviest weighed 28 stone aged just 26 - overhauled her lifestyle and started taking medication.
But by 2007, when she had lost an impressive 15 stone, she was left with excess flesh, meaning she could not show off the three tattoos she had celebrated her weight loss with - one for every five stone.
The NHS would not carry out the abdominoplasty - known as a tummy tuck - so Ms Bell decided to pay for it herself at Dolan Park Hospital, in Birmingham, the largest purpose-built cosmetic surgery hospital in Europe.
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When she booked in for her operation on October 31, 2007, tests showed she had a higher than normal white blood cell count due to an infection. But she was reassured it was safe for the surgery to go ahead.
She said: "As soon as I came around from the surgery, I felt very ill. I experienced a crunching glass sensation in my belly and the tops of my legs. I was discharged home after just one day and then at home my condition deteriorated rapidly."
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Within days Ms Bell's wound was giving off a terrible stench, and despite taking antibiotics and dressing the wound, she ended up back in hospital with sepsis.
"I recall the doctor asking me if I was aware just how critical my condition was," she said. "I spent three weeks in hospital and then a further nine months living with an open wound so that debridement - a procedure where they strip away infected cells - could be performed. It was a truly terrible experience."
Ms Bell was eventually able to have reconstruction surgery on the NHS, but sued The Hospital Group, which ran Dolan Park, for negligence for going ahead with surgery despite her infection.
She also discovered the surgeon who carried out the procedure, Mr Arnaldo Paganelli, had been brought in from Italy and hired by The Hospital Group on a freelance basis.
They argued that technically Mr Paganelli was not employed by them so any claim would need to be made against the him personally.
But although Mr Paganelli was insured, his policy was Italian so Ms Bell would have to sue him in Italy and submit to Italian jurisdiction. The expense and complexities of this meant it was not a realistic option.
The company now trading as The Hospital Group has a different ownership and management, and Mr Paganelli has no association with the new company.
Eventually The Hospital Group, which listed BBC television presenter and singer Marvin Humes, Dancing On Ice judge Jason Gardiner and reality star Kerry Katona among its clients agreed to pay out some, but not all, of the compensation Ms Bell was seeking.
And just two weeks later the company went into administration but was sold the same day to Combine Opco Ltd.
Mr Paganelli is due to face a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service hearing in September on allegations he treated four patients between 2008 and 2014 without adequate insurance, following negligence claims at Bristol County Court, Central London County Court, and Newcastle County Court where he was ordered to pay damages or costs to three of those patients.
Ms Bell now wants to urge those thinking about having private surgery to check surgeons and organisations are properly insured.
Although Ms Bell did check The Hospital Group had insurance, she was not told this did not cover contractors.
A spokesman for The Hospital Group said: "The case in question occurred prior to The Hospital Group undergoing a change in ownership and management in August 2016. We have not been contacted by Ms Bell and cannot comment on the actions of a different company.
"Should she choose to get in touch, we would be happy to speak with her about her treatment by the company previously trading as The Hospital Group in 2007. We can confirm that the surgeon in Ms Bell's case, Mr Paganelli, has never worked with our company.
"The Hospital Group is a responsible, compassionate and patient-centric provider of elective healthcare and wellbeing services, helping thousands of adults in the UK make what can be an important and empowering change in their lives.
"Since taking over Dolan Park Hospital, we have put in place a range of policies and procedures to protect the interests of patients, which is our number one priority. This includes an industry-leading insurance backed multi-year aftercare package, which covers patients even in the event that the company were to enter into administration.
"All surgeons with practising privileges with The Hospital Group must have a UK-based insurance policy in place."
Operation woes for scores of women
A number of other women have also won payouts from The Hospital Group for operations gone wrong.
Debra Dawson, from Wirral, was paid £150,000 after her skin became infected and necrotic following a tummy tuck.
She also had her surgery at Dolan Park, in March 2008, and her surgeon Mr Antonio Araco was struck of by the General Medical Council as he was not correctly insured to work in the UK.
At the time The Hospital Group said: "We are unable to address the allegations put to us for reasons of patient confidentiality."
While Dawn Knight, from Stanley in County Durham, feared she would go blind after an eye lift operation carried out by Mr Paganelli in 2012.
In 2016 her MP Kevan Jones raised the issue in the House of Commons. Referring to the company liquidations, he told the Commons: "Some 80pc of creditors on the liquidator's list are solicitors representing former clients. One suspects that that structure was put in place to avoid any potential for former clients to sue the company for negligence."
'Patients can be vulnerable'
Ms Bell's solicitor Sara Westwood said: "The lack of regulation in the area of private cosmetic surgery is an issue which has been kicked around now for too long without any real action being taken. I am pleased the government is introducing a campaign to raise awareness but far more needs to be done.
"It was Laura's case however which opened my eyes to other serious issues of which I think there is little awareness and that is in relation to the patients contractual position and the issue of hospital and/or surgeon indemnity.
"Patients who seek advice on cosmetic surgery can be vulnerable given they may well have body image issues. They will, understandably, be delighted when they are told by a surgeon or member of clinic staff surgery will provide the improvement they want.
"It is when things go wrong however the patient will often encounter a problem. It is only then they may learn for the first time their contract is not with the hospital or clinic but with the surgeon. This was the issue in Laura's case.
"They would then have to pursue the surgeon direct and this is where many patients have drawn a blank as the surgeon is either not insured or has a policy of insurance but taken out in their country of residence as with Mr Paganelli.
"In order to seek redress that patient would have to litigate in a different country, often under different laws, have to find a foreign lawyer and have the worry of how to pay for the representation. This often makes it prohibitive for the patient to pursue."