Everybody needs to play their part if medical negligence cases are to be significantly cut and lives saved. Health workers who see malpractice, need to report it every time. Health management need to act on those reports immediately and decisively. Patients, their families and lawyers, also need to pursue malpractice in order to make accountability a fact within the NHS. Prevarication and ‘cover up’ not only makes matters worse, but also undermines public faith in the NHS as a whole.
The symptoms of a sick NHS were diagnosed in a recent report into a medical negligence case, by the RCS, Royal College of Surgeons. Fellow surgeons and nurses repeatedly reported malpractice by 3 senior surgeons at hospitals in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells. Health managers in the trust repeatedly failed to act, on these reports. People died from postoperative complications as a direct consequence of this inaction.
The RCS went over the heads of the local health management and stopped indefinitely, keyhole surgery for stomach cancer. Five patients who underwent this procedure died, when ordinarily they should have lived, in January 2013. The surgery will not resume until improvements to the procedures can be proven by the trusts involved.
The most worrying aspect of the RCS report, that was published in full, only on May 15th, was that health professionals other than the 3 named surgeons had put their concerns in writing. They had been doing so for at least 2 years prior to the deaths. Small wonder the relatives of the deceased patients are calling it a cover up. The full report of the cases was only made public because of this publicity.
The surgeons under scrutiny are continuing to do general surgery just not the keyhole variety that is at the heart of the negligence allegations. They were cited in an unsigned letter as being guilty of ‘dangerous and unethical practices’. The letter went to the senior health managers at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells.
The culture at the centre of the allegations was described as one of poor relationships between senior surgeons, irresponsibility in the care of patients and secretiveness around the care regimes of patients which made it difficult to look after them properly. There were improbably high numbers of complications following the keyhole operations. These were ineffectively managed afterwards and too many difficulties in contacting the surgeons when they were needed for care consultations.
Worse than all of this was the sluggish and inadequate response of hospital management to the staff concerns raised at the time. It seems the 3 doctors involved were beyond sanction for whatever reason. It is now at the stage where medical negligence lawyers are to take action against the trust and are investigating a total of 20 deaths following keyhole surgery.
It is an unfortunate indictment of the NHS that things have gone this far. It points up the fact that negligence can arise from systemic sources. In this trust, procedures were (are?) set up for the benefit of the surgeons and staff rather than the patient’s care needs. RCS investigations continue.