A top surgeon harmed patients for years and the health board did not have the systems in place to pick up on his mistakes, a BBC investigation has found.
BBC Scotland’s Disclosure team has printed a report indicating that it saw evidence that dozens of people claimed to have been harmed by Sam Eljamel, the former head of neurosurgery at NHS Tayside.
In one case he is said to have removed the wrong part of a patient’s body.
NHS Tayside said it had listened to patients, changed its practices and made improvements as a result.
However, the BBC investigation said that it found Mr Eljamel was allowed to continue operating even after an external investigation found he was injuring patients.
Mr Eljamel was the head of the neurosurgery department in Ninewells – one of just four specialist centres in Scotland.
The surgeon was an adviser to the Scottish government and also worked at Fernbrae private hospital in Dundee.
The report highlighted the cases of a few patients in which the surgeon is said to have caused harm.
One patient named Jules Rose was said to have been a keen marathon runner until she was told in 2013 that she had a brain tumour. She was nervous about having surgery but reassured to discover it would be carried out by the head of department.
After the August procedure Ms Rose said that Mr Eljamel told her the benign growth behind her eye was “99% removed”.
But a few months later the surgeon informed her he would have to do the operation again and on 9 December the second craniotomy took place.
After asking for her medical records, Ms Rose discovered that in the first operation Mr Eljamel had removed the wrong part of her body – instead of the tumour he had taken out her tear gland.
In June 2013 NHS Tayside bosses say they became aware of concerns about Mr Eljamel for the first time. They learned that he had operated on the wrong part of a number of patient’s spines.
They say they acted “immediately” by placing him under supervision and undertaking an internal audit of his operations.
The board also asked the Royal College of Surgeons to investigate which they did, sending an interim report in October 2013 followed by a final one on 6 December. That date is important because NHS Tayside told BBC Disclosure that it acted “immediately” to suspend Mr Eljamel and report him to the GMC. However, he was allowed to operate on Ms Rose on the 9 December 2013, three days after the final report.
The health board confirmed that he was suspended on 10 December 2013.
The BBC questions how no-one noticed that a brain and spinal surgeon was repeatedly making mistakes and harming patients.
Documents obtained by BBC Disclosure through Freedom of Information requests revealed that the health board did not have effective systems in place to pick up on recurrent mistakes prior to 2013.
The document obtained through FOI said prior to 2013, concerns were discussed in committees but “it was difficult to pick up emerging themes”. And the Royal College’s report says that although Mr Eljamel’s colleagues had concerns about his practices for some time they did not speak up because he was “intimidating”.
Dozens of former patients are suing NHS Tayside, claiming Mr Eljamel has harmed them. Several have already secured compensation.
This investigation raises many concerns about how these incidents can be allowed to happen. In recent years, we have also seen the conviction of breast surgeon Ian Patterson following similar findings, including that staff were intimidated by the surgeon and the NHS did not have the systems in place to prevent these mistakes from happening or simply did not act on the findings in reports.
There are serious questions to be answered and there are suggestions that there could be a case for prosecuting Mr Eljamel. There is likely to be many other patients who have been treated, possibly negligently so, by Mr Eljamel and we would urge anyone treated by him to seek advice.
If you or a family member has suffered from mistakes made by the NHS or other healthcare provider, which you consider unacceptable and feel that this has caused an injury, Devonshires Claims are medical negligence specialists and are here to help with the difficult process of seeking compensation.
If you wish to speak with one of our team, Karen Cathcart is a specialist lawyer with experience in surgical negligence claims and can be contacted on 0207 880 4383 or at Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org