A secret report today revealed that unnecessary surgical procedures were carried out on patients at a crisis-hit hospital.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England carried out a review of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary after concerns were raised about the standards of staff working in the general surgery unit.
NHS Grampian bosses requested an audit of the unit after it emerged that there had been a “dramatic breakdown” in team-working within the department.
The probe centred mainly on surgery carried out on patients with gallbladder issues and liver problems and involved checking 16 sets of clinical records.
The health board initially refused to release the full report but has now given out more information as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.
Further information released yesterday revealed for the first time that some operations had been unnecessary and carried out as a result of “questionable” decision-making.
The report states: “Having reviewed all of the 16 sets of clinical records provided by the Health Board, the review team concluded that the standard of care provided was not outside that which might be expected.
“In seven cases the decisions made about treatment were entirely reasonable, and the outcomes for patients were as good as could have been achieved. In a further three cases the procedures selected were less common or radical approaches which not all surgeons would have chosen.
“Four of the cases involved what could in retrospect be seen as questionable decision-making about pursuing further surgical treatment instead of more conservative or palliative care. With the benefit of hindsight, the surgical treatment of these patients may not have been in their best interests.
“Having considered the documents provided by the Health Board, as well as the information gathered during the interviews, the review team found no information which suggested that the General Surgical service was unsafe. There were, however, a number of areas where there was considerable scope for improvement.”
The review team also concluded that patient care could be affected in future if no major changes were made at the hospital.
Different units within the General Surgery department had different approaches to managing patients and some staff believed this to be detrimental to productivity and team working.
The inquiry was ordered just four months after the Queen’s Surgeon in Scotland Professor Zygmunt Krukowski and his consultant colleague Wendy Craig were suspended after an internal disciplinary review.
The surgeons are believed to remain suspended.
Yesterday Manoj Kumar, a Consultant in the General Surgery Department, said the department had undergone a major overhaul and had resulted in improved team working, communication and training.
And he said there was a “renewed sense of pride and focus” on the critical work carried out in the department.
Malcolm Wright, Chief Executive of NHS Grampian, also said the unit had improved since the report was published in November 2014.
He said: “From my point of view this emphasises the seriousness of the issues that we were faced with 18 months ago.
“What is within the review really highlights the fact that the department of general surgery faced a range of very serious issues around team-working, individual behaviours and the potential to impact on patient care.
“The surgeons’ report said that patient care had not been adversely affected but it had the potential to do so.
“The Royal College report provided a springboard for a great deal of the positive progress we’ve made over the last year and a half, including addressing concerns about team working, training and accountability.
“We have now seen a transformational change in the general surgery department and I would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard to achieve this.”