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Surgery team ‘unsafe’ - and at times ‘dangerous’

By Staf Newsletter  |  Posted: March 10, 2011

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A SCATHING report has damned the surgery team at Stafford Hospital as nothing less than “inadequate, unsafe and at times frankly dangerous”.

The report was carried out by experts from the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) over two days in October 2009.

But the critical document only became public last week, when used as evidence at the ongoing public inquiry into unacceptable standards of care at the hospital.

The report warned that the general surgical department “must not be allowed to continue to operate as it does currently”.

At one point the report describes the general surgical team as “probably the most dysfunctional encountered by any member of the review team”.

Concern was expressed over the team’s “judgement” and “surgical skill”, and the review criticised the fact that “management of complications was significantly below the standard expected”.

The review stated that if standards did not improve, then the only alternative would be to close the surgical unit.

A previous service review of the department had been undertaken by the RCS in 2007. The publication of a damning report by the Healthcare Commission in February 2009 resulted in the employment of a new executive team to improve standards. The new appointments included Manjit Obhrai as medical director and Antony Sumara as chief executive.

But the RCS was called in once again in 2009 when it was felt that problems at the hospital were persisting.

The investigators highlighted their conclusions and recommendations as “based solely on the interests of delivering safe care to the people of Stafford”.

The review said: “Immediate changes are required. Its members are polarised and this causes problems for nursing and support staff and, crucially, puts patients’ safety at risk.

“There remain deep-seated interpersonal issues within the general surgical team. It is difficult to see how these can be managed going forward but they must not be permitted to continue because it is impacting on safe patient care.

“Ward rounds were conducted in an adhoc fashion. This means that nursing staff are often unable to join the round, resulting in a lack of continuity of care for patients.

“We also heard that some surgeons did not visit their patients in critical care post-operatively. This is extremely poor practice and must be rectified.” There were also claims of bullying within the team, and one surgeon was described as “unmanageable” by several interviewees.

But bosses at Stafford Hospital say changes have been made since the investigations.

A surgeon to carry out gall bladder operations has been appointed, with support from the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, and breast surgeons to stop performing bowel surgery and participating in the on-call service.

In addition, an extra surgeon has been appointed to carry out bowel surgery and two existing surgeons retrained under supervision pending an investigation by the General Medical Council.

Maggie Oldham, chief operating officer at Stafford Hospital, said: “We are grateful to the Royal College of Surgeons for undertaking the review on our behalf and as improvements to our morality rates show, the steps we have taken across the board are having a positive impact on patient safety.

“We would like to reassure patients and their families that they are safe when they come to Stafford Hospital.” If anyone has any concerns, the hospital’s advice centre can be contacted on 08000 407060 or 01785 230811.

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