Jennifer Hill, 74, said she is among the over 200 patients whom North Bristol NHS Trust last year admitted Dr Anthony Dixon had caused to suffer “harm” by giving unnecessary pelvic floor surgery using artificial mesh.
The consultant colorectal surgeon was suspended in 2017 after concerns were first raised, and sacked by the hospital trust two years later. On Monday, a six-week General Medical Council hearing began into allegations Dr Dixon “failed to provide adequate clinical care to six patients in a number of areas” between 2010 and 2016.
Ms Hill, of Herefordshire, will be one of the patients giving evidence after she underwent pelvic mesh surgery in 2012 and then again in 2016, leaving her with years of trauma and a “life turned upside down”, she told The Independent.
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Dr Dixon,considered a leading UK pelvic surgeon for years, pioneered the use of artificial mesh to lift prolapsed bowels, a technique known as laparoscopic ventral mesh rectopexy (LVMR), which is often caused by childbirth. He performed the operations at the trust’s Southmead Hospital, and also at the Spire Hospital – a private facility, where NHS patients were regularly referred for treatment.
It was a gastroenterologist at Spire Hospital who advised Ms Hill to see Dr Dixon for the Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) she was struggling with, she said, but he subsequently diagnosed her with rectal and vaginal prolapse as well. Ms Hill said she had pelvic mesh implanted by Dr Dixon in 2012 but her symptoms only worsened afterward.
When she saw him again, she said he told her that her colon had died and operated to remove it, a procedure she said experts later told her they would not have performed in that instance.She said Dixon implanted a different version of pelvic mesh during the surgery – without her consent.
Her symptoms did not improve, and she fears she will be facing challenges for the rest of her life. Ms Hill said she has been left with nerve damage that could leave her wheelchair-bound, ongoing bowel issues, difficulties with sleeping and eating, severe pain, and the need to colonic irrigate multiple times daily.
“Mesh ruins lives and it ruins relationships,” Ms Hill said, adding that she has been unable to have sex since the operations due to the pain. “I’ve been left with disaster. It’s taken everything away from me. It’s been many years of despair and mistreatment. It is quite traumatic. Over the past years, my life has been turned upside down. It’s been a rollercoaster of changes – emotionally, psychologically, for my bodily functions. I’m left with debilitating poor health.”
Ms Hill said the tribunal will not heal her, but she hopes she will gain some closure from it and that her speaking out about her experiences will give others in similar positions some solace.
Linda Millband, national head of clinical negligence group actions at Thompsons Solicitors, said her firm is supporting as many as 100 former mesh patients of Dr Dixon, while another law firm is supporting a further 100.
“What Jennifer has been through is absolutely beyond belief,” she said. “It’s even more shocking that we know she is not the only one who has had her life completely turned upside down by a medical ‘professional’.”
Ms Millband believes Dr Dixon’s hearing will primarily look at whether there was adequate consent to the operations, whether alternative more conservative treatments were offered first, and whether patients were given sufficient warnings about the risks of the surgery. “Absolutely everybody has the same story,” she said. “They were given no information, no alternatives, and rushed into surgery.”
The tribunal comes after North Bristol NHS Trust in May last year published the results of a review of its patients who underwent LMVR surgery from Mr Dixon at the two hospitals between 2007 and 2017. It found 203 cases where, although the operation had been carried out satisfactorily, the patient “should have been offered alternative treatment before proceeding to surgery”. It said: “We have defined these patients as suffering ‘harm’ as a result.”
Ms Millband went on to reject the use of the term ‘rogue surgeon’ to describe Dr Dixon, describing “systemic” issues within the private healthcare sector. “We can no longer call the likes of Tony Dixon ‘rogue surgeons’ – this is a systemic issue,” she said. “Surgeons harming women for financial gain or to ‘play god’ in a private healthcare setting that will let them get away with it.”
The GMC has confirmed Dr Dixon is currently registered without a licence to practise medicine, pending the conclusion of the tribunal.
The Medical Protection Society, of which Dr Dixon is a member, told The Independent on behalf of Dr Dixon: “It would not be appropriate to comment while the MPTS hearing is ongoing.”
The Independent has contacted the Spire Hospital and North Bristol NHS Trust for comment.
When the review was published in May 2022, North Bristol NHS Trust chief medical officer Tim Whittlestone said: “I want to apologise again to all patients who received surgery for rectal prolapse unnecessarily – it was completely unacceptable.”