Desperate Man Amputates Own Toes Following Cancelled Operation

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The Law Of... cutting off your own toes

A Devon man took the 'do it yourself' ethos to an extreme when he used a pair of surgical pliers to remove gangrenous toes from his own foot. This followed the cancellation of an amputation procedure that would have seen him lose half a leg.

Man Amputates Own Gangrenous Toes

Victoria Clark, a Medical Negligence Solicitor at Simpson Millar, looks at the details of this gruesome case and examines the options for patients who find themselves facing similar issues.

Toes Turned Black

After fixing his son's car in freezing conditions, Paul Dibbins, a former soldier, suffered frostbite in his foot. When this turned his toes black he was rushed to hospital, where complications with diabetes resulted in the decision to amputate the affected leg below the knee. Further complications involving another patient led to an eleventh hour cancellation, resulting in Mr Dibbins discharging himself from the hospital to take care of his frostbitten toes at home.

Unfortunately, this did not go to plan and 6 months later the affected toes had turned gangrenous, with the former soldier's doctor allegedly telling him it would kill him if action was not taken. Mr Dibbins also claimed he was told there would be a six week wait before the procedure could take place, by which time the gangrene could have spread further.

Hacked Through Bone and Gristle

So he took matters into his own hands and decided to cut the offending digits off with little more than a towel (to bite down on), a knife, the pliers, and a pair of scissors. Drawing upon the medical training he had received during his time on military manoeuvres, as well as the sort of steely nerve that allows a man to hack through the bone and gristle of his own foot, the one-time Lance Corporal was able to successfully remove two toes, with what remains having since healed.

Commenting on why he did it, Mr Dibbins said:

"I did it because it had to be done [...] I didn't want to die and I didn't want my leg cut off."

Cancelled Operations

Although Mr Dibbins discharged himself following the sudden cancellation of his procedure, in circumstances where an operation has been called off, the patient should be offered a new date in line with the NHS Constitution.

This pledge states that when cancelling an operation at the last minute – on the day you are due to arrive, after you have arrived, or on the day of your surgery – a hospital should offer the patient another appointment within 28 days of the initial procedure.

This covers all cancellations for non-clinical reasons such as:

  • No available beds
  • Unavailable staff
  • Emergency cases taking priority in theatre (as was apparently the case with Mr Dibbins)
  • Over-running operations
  • Faulty equipment
  • Administrative error


The pledge covers all planned operations, including day surgery, but does not cover minor procedures that can be undertaken at outpatient clinics.

If you are not offered another appointment within 28 days, or find the level of your care to be inadequate, you are entitled to make a complaint using the NHS complaints procedure. If you find the outcome of this unsatisfactory, you should seek further legal advice.

Victoria comments:

"Mr Dibbins’ story raises several interesting issues. Firstly, there is the initially prescribed treatment of a below-knee amputation, which, considering how things panned out, seems potentially to have been somewhat excessive."

"Secondly, there has been a suggestion that after he discharged himself he was given clearance by doctors to look after and treat the affected toes himself, this being after they had intended to remove his leg – only the last minute cancellation preventing it."

"In the first instance, it appears that Mr Dibbins was unhappy with the idea of losing half his leg, which, considering the frostbite appears to have only affected his toes, is understandable. It is important to understand that if you are unhappy with a recommended treatment, you are entirely within your rights to question the recommendation and/or seek a second opinion. You should not take everything at face value, there may be alternatives available to you and errors can and do occur, including misdiagnoses and unnecessary treatments."

"With regards to the second issue, one has to question why a doctor would clear somebody to tend to himself, when they not only suspected complications had arisen from diabetes, but were also prepared to carry out a below-knee amputation. Regardless of whether Mr Dibbins was misdiagnosed or not, this – if the accounts are to be believed – demonstrates negligence, particularly when the toes turned gangrenous as a result."

"Finally, this story acts as a reminder that if you suffer with diabetes, you are at a higher risk when it comes to complications involving foot care. Healthcare professionals should be aware of this and take appropriate action to minimise the risk but, unfortunately, it is all too common for there to be failures or delays in treatment of diabetes related complications"

If you believe you have received unnecessary treatment or a level of care you have found to be lacking, the consequences of which have had a negative impact upon your life, you should seek professional legal advice. In such cases, you may be entitled to compensation.


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