Doctor ‘failed to protect airway’ of mother who died after giving birth, court hears

Frances Cappuccini was a 'healthy young woman' whose death was 'wholly unexpected'

Ian Johnston
Wednesday 13 January 2016 19:42 GMT
Frances Cappuccini who died after giving birth by emergency Caesarean section
Frances Cappuccini who died after giving birth by emergency Caesarean section (PA)

A “healthy young woman” died after two anaesthetists accused of her manslaughter – one of whom has since left the country – failed to carry out the basic task of ensuring she came round after an operation, a court has heard.

Frances Cappuccini, a 30-year-old primary school teacher, underwent surgery after suffering heavy bleeding following the birth of her son by Caesarean section at Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Pembury, Kent. She never woke up from the operation.

The prosecution claims neither consultant anaesthetist Errol Cornish, of Bromley, South London, nor Dr Nadeem Azeez were qualified to hold the jobs they had at the trust.

Dr Cornish denies manslaughter by gross negligence. Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, denies corporate manslaughter. Dr Azeez is not on trial as he has left the country, but John Price QC, prosecuting, said: “Were he within this jurisdiction, however, he would now be facing exactly the same charge.”

Mr Price told Inner London Crown Court that Mrs Cappuccini was a “healthy young woman” and that her death was “wholly unexpected” and “wholly avoidable”.

Consultant anaesthetist Errol Cornish denies manslaughter by gross negligence
Consultant anaesthetist Errol Cornish denies manslaughter by gross negligence (PA)

The two anaesthetists failed in the “elementary task of protecting her airway in order to ensure that, as she recovered from the operation, she remained adequately ventilated [and] that sufficient air was getting into her lungs”, the prosecutor said.

The court heard that the tube helping Mrs Cappuccini to breathe after the operation was removed by 12.30pm on the day she died in October 2012. But, despite apparent difficulties with her breathing, there were delays in re-intubating her.

Five minutes after the tube had been removed it became clear there was an issue but Dr Azeez failed to ask for help in time, Mr Price said.

“The prosecution submit that Dr Azeez should at this stage have asked for assistance and was very seriously at fault for not doing so,” he added.

By 1pm, Dr Cornish had been called to help with the situation and he spent around 50 minutes in the room, the court heard.

But, Mr Price said, he failed to immediately make sure Mrs Cappuccini was re-intubated, therefore contributing to the cause of her death at 4.20pm.

“Dr Cornish had contributed to its cause by failing to do what he himself later was to acknowledge should have been done,” the prosecutor said. “He should immediately have ensured that she was re-intubated and in failing to do so, the Crown allege, he too was grossly negligent.”

The prosecution alleged that Dr Azeez, originally from Pakistan, did not have the qualification certifying his basic level of competence in anaesthetics. And South African-born Cornish, Mr Price said, has “never met the criteria for substantive appointment as a consultant anaesthetist”.

The hospital is also accused of failing to properly supervise Dr Azeez.

The trial continues.

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