BBC NHS documentary crisis leaves viewers heartbroken

  • Peter Lai had an operation scheduled for around 2 months at St Mary’s Hospital
  • He had a 16.5cm aortic aneurysm that was close to rupturing and killing him
  • Needed an intensive care bed post-surgery but the shortage meant a delay
  • He had to wait a month to undergo the procedure, but he caught pneumonia
  • Tragically, his six week battle with the illness killed him – leaving viewers upset 

Viewers of a new documentary lifting the lid on the NHS crisis were left heartbroken last night when a 60-year-old man died after his life-saving operation was cancelled.

Peter Lai was forced to wait in a corridor at St Mary’s Hospital, London, for hours as doctors battled to find him a bed in the second installment of BBC2‘s Hospital.

The patient had his surgery scheduled for two months, and had 14 hospital staff prepped and ready to go to treat his aortic aneurysm – which could rupture at any moment and kill him.

But doctors were cruelly forced to cancel the procedure at the last moment due to there being no space in the post-surgery unit – leaving his life in danger.

Thankfully, surgeons were able to schedule him in for the same operation a month later. However, he tragically passed away following a six week battle in intensive care with pneumonia.

On social media, viewers speculated had he received better care and the operation wasn’t cancelled initially that he would still be alive today. 

Peter Lai, 60, is taken down to the operating theatre to prep for surgery but at the last minute is told there isn't an intensive care unit bed available post-op 

Peter Lai, 60, is taken down to the operating theatre to prep for surgery but at the last minute is told there isn’t an intensive care unit bed available post-op 

Peter had been waiting all day at the hospital to see if there would be a bed available so his surgery could go ahead

Peter had been waiting all day at the hospital to see if there would be a bed available so his surgery could go ahead

His original surgery had been cancelled and he had to wait another month for it to be rescheduled. (Pictured) Recovering in ICU after his surgery

His original surgery had been cancelled and he had to wait another month for it to be rescheduled. (Pictured) Recovering in ICU after his surgery

The retired software engineer has had nine operations over the past 18 years for the bulge in the body’s main artery.

Both he and his wife were desperate for the surgery, hoping it would allow his issue to be resolved and his life to return to normal.

As the morning of Peter’s surgery approached he was taken down to the theatre to be prepped, remaining resolutely optimistic throughout – before the news is broken.

Consultant vascular surgeon Colin Bicknell, who is on the team that would have performed the surgery, explained that it had taken two months to coordinate.

‘We need four vascular surgeons, one cardiac surgeon, two expert perfusionists, three anaesthetists, one general surgeon, and our expert nursing team and that’s purely in that theatre,’ he said.

Colin was then seen running around the hospital trying to locate a space for another patient, freeing up a bed for Peter.

‘Finding a bed for a patient is something we go through, it is because it is an acute hospital and we have a major trauma centre and we can’t predict all of that,’ he added. 

Peter's wife of 36 years, Diana, waited patiently with her husband to see if he would get a bed for his surgery

Peter’s wife of 36 years, Diana, waited patiently with her husband to see if he would get a bed for his surgery

Consultant vascular surgeon Colin Bicknell, is gutted to learn that his patient Peter Lai has to be sent home after a bed is unavailable 

Consultant vascular surgeon Colin Bicknell, is gutted to learn that his patient Peter Lai has to be sent home after a bed is unavailable 

But his hard work proved unsuccessful.

However, when the surgeon revealed Peter will need to wait longer, he amazingly remained calm: ‘It’s alright, you did your best.’

He added: ‘I felt ready for it… It just deflates. It is a bit unreal isn’t it, the last minute, yes then no.’

NHS BED SHORTAGE CRISIS 

According to reports the NHS is currently struggling in the face of its worst crisis in 15 years. 

The Red Cross said it had been called in to help hospitals and ambulance services, describing the situation as a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

NHS figures earlier this month showed the full extent of the pressures on the health service. For the single week leading up to January 1, they revealed:

  • A&E units had to temporarily close their doors to ambulances 42 times; 
  • Nearly a quarter of patients waited at least four hours to be seen, while 372,000 in total turned up to casualty; 
  • One thousand beds were closed every day of the week to contain the spread of winter vomiting bug norovirus; 
  • More than 457,000 patients called the NHS 111 helpline. 

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said recently: ‘What we are seeing is the safety net of the NHS being stretched to the absolute limit, and in some places it’s breaking.’ 

A frustrated Colin, who had been treating Peter for 18 years, said: ‘I’m gutted. Of course we’re gutted, it’s disappointing because you build yourself up for it and get ready. 

‘It’s disappointing for the patient, he will be going home now, can you imagine how he feels?

‘It means organising the whole thing again, equipment-wise, personnel-wise, it means all the people in the clinics that were coming in a few weeks time need to be cancelled. The whole thing is like a moving jigsaw, they all get pushed along.

‘There is a risk of his large aneurysm rupturing so we need to get him moving along as soon as possible.’

His wife of 36 years, said of her husband: ‘I love him as much now as I ever did.

‘I’ve just found it very difficult the whole journey because he is a very special person… It has been difficult I wish I was just stronger. 

‘Luckily Peter is really positive and I try my best to me but he understands I’m not like him.’

Peter finally had his operation a month later under the care of eight surgeons, three anaesthetists, a prefusionist and three scrubs. 

Lead vascular surgeon Richard Gibbs said: ‘The financial cost is enormous and I think it is a really optimistic thing that we push on and try and get people like this sorted out, no matter how big the team or how expensive it is.’

After his operation Peter endured six weeks in intensive care battling with pneumonia, but unfortunately, despite the best efforts of hospital staff, he passed away.

Viewers were left devastated after watching the episode, with one Twitter user saying: ‘If only Peter had his first operation things might be different, so sad.’

While another said: ‘Oh dear god. Peter died. My heart bleeds for his wife. If only he had received better and quicker care… who knows…’

‘Can’t deal with Peter dying at the end of that episode,’ added an emotional third.

After two months of coordinating a team of experts an operation has to be cancelled because the intensive care unit is at full capacity

After two months of coordinating a team of experts an operation has to be cancelled because the intensive care unit is at full capacity

St Mary's Hospital team star in the BBC Two documentary. (L-R) the staff  Katie Pritchard, Richard Gibbs, Ali Sanders, Angus Lewis, Andrew Chukwuemeka, Helgi Johannsson, Ruchi Sinha, Colin Bicknell, Sadie Syed, Leanne Moran

St Mary’s Hospital team star in the BBC Two documentary. (L-R) the staff Katie Pritchard, Richard Gibbs, Ali Sanders, Angus Lewis, Andrew Chukwuemeka, Helgi Johannsson, Ruchi Sinha, Colin Bicknell, Sadie Syed, Leanne Moran

BBC cameras spent a week at the hospital in London, recording the everyday catastrophes that are consuming the health service.

It was deemed at ‘Code Red’ – meaning there are no beds available anywhere, either in the hospital itself or anywhere else within the health trust.

Bosses are filmed discussing the ‘full capacity protocol’, a series of extreme measures for busy situations, such as placing adults in children’s wards.

For site director Lesley Powls, it is her job to find beds and allocate them to patients but it isn’t an easy task especially when there are none.

‘This is really bad, I’m sure it has been worse but this is particularly bad,’ she said.

The first episode depicted the story of doctors deciding between a cancer patient and an elderly woman with a ruptured blood vessel as to who received a bed.

But the heartbreaking footage showed that Simon, who had already have surgery to remove his tumour postponed once, had to endure another wait.

Tragically, he died just weeks later. 

The Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust declined to comment when contacted by MailOnline.

A&E departments are known to be dealing with their busiest winter in 15 years as some doctors claim they have never seen it so bad.

Jeremy Hunt earlier this month begged people to stay away from crisis-hit hospitals

Jeremy Hunt earlier this month begged people to stay away from crisis-hit hospitals

Earlier this month, the Red Cross warned hospitals were facing a ‘humanitarian crisis’ after an elderly woman died after spending 35 hours waiting on a trolley.

She passed away at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, while another – also on a trolley – suffered a fatal aneurysm in the same department. 

Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said: ‘The British Red Cross is on the front line, responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country.

‘We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much-needed beds.’ 

While Jeremy Hunt has since begged people to stay away from crisis-hit hospitals. 

The Health Secretary claimed 30 per cent of people using casualty units did not need to be there, pointing to cases of broken fingernails, drunkenness and back ache.

Hospital airs on BBC Two tonight, at 9pm 

Health | Mail Online