Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 19:27 GMT
£40,000 for widow of smoker 'denied bypass'
Doctors say quitting smoking can be vital for some operations
The widow of a man whose heart surgery was cancelled because he was a smoker has been awarded £40,000 in compensation.
Andrea Gibson says her husband John's triple heart bypass operation was cancelled by Southampton General Hospital in 1993 after he admitted he was a smoker.
Mrs Gibson, from Alton, Hampshire, claims her husband fell into a depression after being told he could not have the operation and died 10 months later from a heart attack.
"John never recovered from being told he could not have the operation," she said.
"He was literally minutes from having surgery when he was refused the treatment. "He had been shaved and the surgeon asked him whether he still smoked. John said yes and the surgeon said 'I cannot operate on you'."
"When I went to pick him up I saw him sitting on a wall. He looked as though he had been kicked by a horse. He was so dejected."
Mr Gibson, aged 59, smoked 20 cigarettes a day, but had cut down to five a day by the time the operation was scheduled to take place.
His wife says the surgeon told him smokers had less chance of surviving the bypass operation.
But she claimed that, if he had been warned in advance, he would have tried to give up smoking.
"None of us could believe it. If the hospital had got in touch with us before the operation then at least John could have given up smoking or cancelled the operation, but he was never given any chance," she said.
"He should have been given the benefit of the doubt," she said.
"We were all ready to support him in his bid to kick smoking."
She says the £40,000, awarded in an out of court settlement, will help pay off her debts.
She lost her home after her husband died because she was unable to keep up with mortgage repayments.
"I can never forget what happened and money is no compensation. But after five horrible years, I hope we can put it behind us and make sure that no-one else suffers in the same way," she said.
Southampton and South West Hampshire Health Authority, representing the hospital, said the compensation payment did not mean it admitted liability.
It rejects allegations that Mr Gibson was refused treatment - which would go against a General Medical Council ruling that patients' lifestyle should not be a factor in deciding whether they should receive treatment.
"His operation was deferred until he gave up smoking because the risks of operating while he continued to smoke were considered too high by the doctors," it said in a statement.
The decision was backed by the British Medical Association which stated: "For some conditions, giving up smoking can be the best immediate treatment.
"If patient are suffering from heart disease, for instance, quitting smoking is often essential if they are to be successfully treated."
But Juliet Wallbridge, spokeswoman for FOREST, which campaigns for smokers' rights, said: "Smokers are entitled to the same care and compassion as non-smokers."