‘They look for a scapegoat’: a surgeon’s battle to clear his name
When a patient died after a delay in treatment, surgeon David Sellu was jailed for 15 months. Now, with his conviction quashed, he reveals how he found himself in the line of fire.
It was a winter evening at a hospital just outside London and colorectal surgeon David Sellu’s clinic was busy. But when a fellow doctor, an orthopaedic surgeon, asked him if he would see one of his patients, Sellu didn’t hesitate to say yes. Which is how, an hour or so later, he came to meet the man whose death would turn him into a criminal serving 15 months in a prison cell.
His new patient was a 66-year-old who had recently had a knee replacement, but was now complaining of abdominal pain. In Did He Save Lives?, the book that documents his story, Sellu recalls shaking hands with the man, James Hughes, a retired builder from Northern Ireland, and sitting by his bed to talk about how he was feeling. Sellu, now in his early 70s, speaks quietly and precisely. It’s easy to imagine him on that evening nine years ago, pulling up a chair and explaining to Hughes that he’d need painkillers to get him through the night and an urgent CT scan in the morning.
That scan showed Hughes had a perforated bowel and would need surgery straight away. Sellu tried to book an operating slot, but the earliest he could secure a theatre and anaesthetist at the hospital, the private Clementine Churchill in Harrow, was for later that evening. At the last minute, however, the anaesthetist was delayed with another case. Sellu tried, but failed, to find another anaesthetist. Hughes’s surgery eventually went ahead, but not until around three hours after the intended slot. During the operation Hughes bled a lot more than expected and, it turned out, was also suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. By the time the surgery was over and Hughes was transferred to intensive care, it was clear that he had an uphill battle ahead.