Family from Mark call for lessons to be learned after mum's sepsis death following surgery and three-month cancer diagnosis delay

  Posted: 10.09.21 at 12:20 by Tim Lethaby

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A widower from Mark is calling for lessons to be learned after his wife’s sepsis death following surgery which resulted from a three-month delay in diagnosing bowel cancer.

Former nurse Fiona Hodder had experienced several weeks of severe abdominal pain, nausea and weight loss.

In August 2018 she underwent CT scans in Weston General Hospital and treatment for a bowel abscess. No investigations for potential cancer were carried out.

She visited hospital three more times complaining of ongoing pain. On the last visit she was sent home with laxatives and medicine for heartburn.

Fiona was admitted to Weston General on Christmas Day 2018 after her husband of 42 years, Tony, drove her to hospital.

Following a CT scan she underwent surgery to remove a blockage in her bowel and reconnect it. A later biopsy showed Fiona had bowel cancer.

Fiona’s daughter, Rebecca, after completing the London Marathon in her mum’s memory

Following her operation Fiona’s condition continued to deteriorate. Doctors found she had suffered a leaking bowel during surgery and developed sepsis.

Fiona underwent two further operations to repair and wash out her bowel. During surgery doctors believed she suffered a stroke.

Her condition continued to deteriorate. On the advice of doctors her family made the very difficult decision to withdraw life support. Fiona died, aged 63, on January 13, 2019.

Following her death Tony, aged 71, and the couple’s children, Rebecca and Vicky aged 42 and 39, instructed medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate her care under the former Weston Area Health NHS Trust, which at the time ran Weston Hospital.

The site is now run by University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust following a merger.

University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Trust admitted a breach of duty. It admitted a failure to investigate Fiona’s condition further in August 2018.

The trust acknowledged that with appropriate care Fiona’s cancer would have been diagnosed, at the latest, by early October 2018.

If it had been Fiona probably would have undergone less complicated surgery and on balance would not have died in January 2019.

The trust denied the Christmas Day surgery was negligent but accepted that Fiona would not have died if a decision not to reconnect her bowel in favour of leaving her with a stoma had been made.

Tony and his legal team are now marking World Sepsis Day by calling for lessons to be learned from Fiona’s care to improve patient safety. Tony and daughters are also planning on further fundraising events in aid of UK Sepsis Trust.

Eleri Davies, the specialist medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing the family, said: “Tony and the rest of the family remain devastated by Fiona’s unnecessary death and the circumstances surrounding it.

“If Fiona’s cancer had been diagnosed when it should have been she could have undergone earlier elective surgery to treat her cancer and she wouldn’t have developed a bowel obstruction necessitating emergency surgery which led to sepsis and her death.

“While nothing can make up for what Fiona’s family have been through we welcome the trust’s admissions.

"It’s now vital that lessons are learned from this case to improve patient safety for others. World Sepsis Day is incredibly important in raising awareness of the dangers of the condition.

“We’ll continue to support Fiona’s family as they try and come to terms with their loss the best they can and raise money for UK Sepsis Trust.”

Tony, a retired senior telecommunications manager, said: “Fiona was in terrible pain for months but every time she visited the hospital we put our trust in what we were being told.

"We hoped Fiona was in the best place to establish what was wrong and she could receive the treatment she needed. However, this went on for several months and it was dreadful to see her suffering.

"It came to a head on Christmas Day 2018. I took my wife into hospital and never expected that she wouldn’t return home.

“Seeing her in intensive care was an awful experience. We would visit Fiona six hours a day in hospital and I would call first thing every morning to check on her.

“It was difficult to understand why she wasn’t making a recovery. The decision to withdraw her life support is the hardest decision any of our family will ever have to make.

“Fiona was a wonderful and caring person, not only as a wife, mum and grandmother but as a nurse. She spent most of her life caring for and helping others.

"It’s difficult not to get upset as when she needed help the most she was badly let down and it is difficult to try and accept that her cancer should have been diagnosed months earlier.

“If it had been diagnosed earlier, we know Fiona would still have been poorly but she wouldn’t have developed sepsis and faced the suffering and pain she did and we believe she wouldn’t have died.”

Following Fiona’s death her family have raised money for UK Sepsis Trust. Rebecca ran the London Marathon in 2019 while Tony puts on a special Christmas lights display at his home each year in aid of the charity.

He said: “It’s shocking to think that sepsis accounts for so many deaths yet it remains a condition that not many people really understand or know about.

“Our family have received so much support following Fiona’s death - the fundraising is our way of trying to give something back and hopefully help others so they don’t have to face the heartbreak we have.

"I am hoping that Christmas 2021 will be my biggest and best light display yet and we will raise even more money for UK Sepsis Trust.”

Signs of sepsis include slurred speech, confusion, extreme shivering and muscle pain, passing no urine in a day, severe breathlessness and mottled or discoloured skin. For more information visit

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