Demand for health board to resign over failing to act on disgraced surgeon Sam Eljamel

More than a hundred patients were operated on by a disgraced surgeon who should have been suspended
Disgraced surgeon Sam Eljamel, Photo: ContributedDisgraced surgeon Sam Eljamel, Photo: Contributed
Disgraced surgeon Sam Eljamel, Photo: Contributed

There have been demands for a full independent public inquiry into NHS Tayside’s handling of disgraced surgeon Professor Sam Eljamel after a damning report found patients were put at risk after warnings were ignored.

The health board yesterday apologised to more than a 100 patients who were operated on by the brain surgeon, despite him being under supervision pending an investigation into malpractice.

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He was alleged to have harmed dozens of patients - including leaving some with life-changing injuries - but was allowed to continue operating from June 2013 until December of that year.

Professor Sam Eljamel, shot from BBC Reporting Scotland 1995.Professor Sam Eljamel, shot from BBC Reporting Scotland 1995.
Professor Sam Eljamel, shot from BBC Reporting Scotland 1995.

Scottish Labour last night demanded the entire leadership board of NHS Tayside resign.

During his “indirect supervision”, Prof Eljamel was accompanied on his ward rounds once a week, but was otherwise allowed to continue working as normal.

After he was finally suspended in December, nine of the 111 patients he operated on during his supervision period submitted formal complaints, while a further two initiated legal action against NHS Tayside.

There are now 98 complaints pertaining to Prof Eljamel’s practice in Tayside, although any complaints from before 2012 were destroyed when NHS Tayside switched its Adverse Incident Management system over to a system called Datix.

Dame Jackie Baillie, deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Image: Fraser Bremner/Getty Images.Dame Jackie Baillie, deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Image: Fraser Bremner/Getty Images.
Dame Jackie Baillie, deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Image: Fraser Bremner/Getty Images.

Opposition politicians called for an independent public inquiry to take place and for oversight to brought in, while Scottish Labour's Jackie Baillie called for the board leadership to resign immediately.

The party’s deputy leader, Ms Baillie, said: “The Eljamel scandal is one of the greatest scandals in recent years but sadly it is only one of several NHS scandals under the SNP.

“For years now, families across Tayside have been catastrophically failed by the leadership of NHS Tayside while SNP ministers turned a blind eye.

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“Those who failed to end this scandal must be held to account – we need a full public inquiry and we need government ministers to come before the Scottish Parliament immediately and explain what they knew about this scandal and when.”

Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, Liz Smith, said the latest revelations surrounding the surgeon “are devastating”.

“They prove beyond all doubt that NHS Tayside failed to act appropriately when they knew there were very serious concerns about the medical practices of Professor Eljamel,” said Ms Smith.

“Just as scandalous is the fact that they have kept the truth from the patients for years and that the Scottish Government has failed to address this.

“It is blatantly obvious that when a series of very serious allegations were made against Eljamel he should have been suspended, not put under casual observation when he could do more damage to patients.

“We know from what whistle-blowers told us earlier this year that those who worked with Sam Eljamel knew about the serious concerns, as did managers, yet they allowed him to continue practising in theatre.

“For several years, I have seen at first hand the trauma, both physical and mental, that these patients have been put through because the truth has always been kept from them. I cannot imagine how they will be feeling when they receive the latest letter.

“A full public inquiry is essential. Humza Yousaf and Michael Matheson must grant it without any delay. Anything less would be a total dereliction of duty from them both.”

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Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie added: “The fact that it has taken so long for the admission of errors around the supervision arrangements for Professor Eljamel further weakens any trust that ex-patients had in those in positions of authority,” said Mr Rennie.

“It is devastating that, as NHS Tayside have admitted, 111 patients were at direct risk as a result of poor decision-making around the supervisory arrangements."

Prof Eljame retired in 2014 which ended the investigation, and in 2015 he voluntarily removed himself from the GMC register unchallenged by the board, which could have intervened.

A review, conducted by NHS Tayside’s executive medical director, Dr Pamela Johnston, found “Professor Eljamel was not being open and honest with patients and colleagues”.

“It was clear that he was not being truthful with his patients about procedures and he did not share mistakes with colleagues for learning and reflection in the well-established mortality and morbidity reviews,” the report reads.

“These behaviours are rare within the medical profession but there is a need to have systems in place to detect and act on these if they occur.

“This has been a challenge for all healthcare organisations because of the infrequent nature of the occurrence and because individuals may be evasive and untruthful.”

The report also found that communication with patients “has been of variable quality, fragmented and generally poor” and “there has been no central coordination to ensure a truly person-centred approach”.

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“When concerns were raised by patients, the issue was managed through a small subset of the acute management team with a lack of board visibility, no governance routes to assure and scrutinise and no indications or reporting of improvement through action plans,” the report reads.

Following a meeting of NHS Tayside’s management board, Dr Johnston confirmed she had now written to the patients operated on between June and December 2013 and apologised.

“We are offering support to them in a number of ways and there is a dedicated team to help them with any questions and concerns they may have going forward,” said Dr Johnston.

“The Scottish Government review, which reported in 2022, looked at the concerns of some patients of Professor Eljamel and gave recommendations to NHS Tayside which included taking further action to investigate areas of ongoing concern of patients and the decision-making around the practical arrangements for the supervision of Professor Eljamel in 2013.

“Today’s report is the conclusion of that further action, but we recognise that many former patients remain understandably very upset and unhappy with what has happened. NHS Tayside apologises to former patients of the surgeon and remains committed to do whatever is required to support the independent commission which is being set up by [the] Scottish Government to respond to patients’ ongoing concerns.”

The Scottish Government has said it was exploring a number of options for former patients of Prof Eljamel with the intention of establishing a “person-centred, independent review of individual cases”.

Health Secretary Michael Matheson said: “This is a thorough report and lays bare some of the failings in NHS Tayside’s response to concerns over Professor Eljamel.

“It is clear from this review that these were not acted upon with the urgency they deserved.

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“What is important now is that those people directly affected are supported to find the answers they need, and that both staff and patients across Scotland know lessons are being learned.

“For that to happen properly, I have been clear that this needs investigation independent of both NHS Tayside and the Scottish Government.

“We will provide more details on this shortly.”



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