Surgeon accuses NHS of misleading ministers over cardiac deaths

Professor Marjan Jahangiri – Alex Lentati/Evening Standard / eyevine

A surgeon wrongly blamed for the deaths of dozens of heart patients has accused NHS bosses of misleading health ministers over a crucial report on the deaths.

Professor Marjan Jahangiri said in an inquiry that NHS Improvement (NHSI) had given ministers inaccurate information about its Independent Mortality Review of deaths at St George’s Hospital.

The review, carried out by consultant surgeon Michael Lewis, concluded that heart surgeons at St George’s, south London, had caused the deaths of 67 patients, leaving their reputations in tatters.

Professor Jahangiri said the NHSI had wrongly told health ministers that the review was not about individual blame on doctors and would not be the basis for any referral to the GMC or other professional bodies.

But following the publication of the Lewis Review, St George’s NHS Trust suspended Professor Jahangiri and her surgeon colleague, Dr Justin Nowell. The trust also paid hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees for claims of clinical malpractice and errors of care.

The two surgeons were subsequently referred to the General Medical Council (GMC) over an investigation of misconduct by the chief medical officer at St George’s.

Surgeon Justin Nowell

Surgeon Justin Nowell

However, after an 18-month process, the GMC informed them last May that they “did not have any cases to answer” and that “there was no need for a formal investigation.”

By then, a High Court judge had ruled in August 2019 that the couple should not be blamed. Dr. Nowell and Prof. Jahangiri were reinstated and received an apology and compensation from the hospital.

Professor Jahangiri, an experienced heart specialist, said it took the intervention of her constituency MP, Conservative Felicity Buchan, to get a correction from James Morris, the health minister, on the mandate of Lewis’s review report. .

Last week, Professor Jahangiri said at an inquest into the death of one of the patients, Maureen Brett, 84, that: “Inaccurate information about the Lewis review was given to ministers by NHSI ahead of two debates in both Houses of Parliament. Parliament.

“It was only through the concerted efforts of my MP, Miss Felicity Buchan, that the health minister issued a written apology and retracted its errors.”

Ms Buchan, Conservative MP for Kensington, Under Secretary of State for Housing and Homelessness, has criticized the impact of the Lewis review on clinical staff at St George’s.

The inquest into the death of Mrs Brett, from Folkestone, Kent, found that it contained “frankly unfair” criticism of the treatment the pensioner received at St George’s.

It was the latest in a series of inquests in recent months by Professor Fiona Wilcox, West London’s chief inland coroner, into the deaths of the 67 patients.

In the course of more than 40 inquiries so far, Professor Wilcox has said that the St George’s medical staff and the two surgeons should not have been blamed. He concluded in only one case so far that there were failures in care.

Prof Jahangiri told Ms Brett’s inquiry that the NHSI review had had a devastating impact on “many doctors in our unit. . relatives of deceased patients and past and future patients”.

She told Professor Wilcox that she had spent 4,500 hours defending herself and her unit and incurred substantial legal costs “against the almost unlimited legal resources” available to England’s NHS.

Paul Greaney, KC, representing NHS England, disputed Professor Jahangiri’s claims, saying that NHS England had welcomed the coroner’s preventing future deaths report, which had criticized the Lewis Review.

During earlier research, Professor Wilcox said: “There has been enormous damage and suffering as a result of the NHSI Review. The entire reputation of the cardiac surgery department and the hospital has been damaged with no evidence this court has seen thus far of deficiencies in care.”

NHS Improvement said the Lewis review, led by 12 senior clinical experts in cardiac surgery, was not carried out to determine cause of death or place blame on individual doctors, but to examine historical failures of care in the Unit of Cardiac Surgery at St George’s between 2013 and 2018. .

NHS England said it had supported the health minister in providing a written update “to clarify an earlier statement made at a ministerial briefing”.

An NHS spokesman in London said: “Cardiac surgery at the Trust has improved significantly following the recommendations made by the independent mortality review. The review considered safety concerns and did not criticize any individual staff.”

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