Surgeon was ‘allowed to carry on harming patients’ by health board, says BBC probe

Professor Muftah Salem Eljamel was not stopped by NHS Tayside even after an external investigation found he was injuring patients. Picture: contributed
Professor Muftah Salem Eljamel was not stopped by NHS Tayside even after an external investigation found he was injuring patients. Picture: contributed
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A surgeon being pursued for damages by dozens of patients was allowed to botch operations for years without a health board having any checks in place to pick up ­mistakes, according to a BBC Scotland investigation.

A documentary to be ­broadcast tonight suggests Professor Muftah Salem Eljamel was not stopped by NHS Tayside even after an external investigation found he was injuring patients.

To claim that you have done an operation in this critical area, and then not to do it shows a ­complete lack of any consideration for the patient

DONALD CAMPBELL

The investigation has uncovered claims that some patients were told that operations had taken place when they had not actually been carried out.

Prof Eljamel, a ­neurological surgeon in ­Tayside since 1995, was ­suspended in 2014 after a patient had ­surgery on the wrong spinal disc at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.

Prof Eljamel avoided a ­General Medical Council ­tribunal three years ago after removing himself from the medical register in the wake of up to 100 cases emerging against him.

Although this meant he is no longer able to practise medicine in the UK, Prof Eljamel. formerly of Newport-on-Tay, is understood to be running a neurosurgery business in the United States.

The BBC Scotland Disclosure programme asked patients of Prof Eljamel to access their medical records and, with their permission, shared their scans and notes with expert neurosurgeon Donald Campbell.

In one case Mr Campbell said that ­Prof Eljamel had over-stated a spinal operation’s chances of success. In two others, he believes the surgery was not done at all.

Mr ­Campbell told the ­programme: “Well that was negligent. There’s no other description. It’s ­completely unacceptable.”

Referring to one case of a former patient, Patrick Kelly, who believed he had spinal surgery in 2007, Mr Campbell said: “As far as I can see, he’s never actually removed any bone or disc.

“He’s opened the patient and then come out again.

“I can’t think of any explanation why that should be done. To claim that you have done an operation in this critical area, and then not to do it, knowing that the result of approaching the area and not ­operating on it will be to leave such scar ­tissue that no-one else is going to operate on it shows a ­complete lack of any consideration for the patient.”

NHS Tayside told the documentary team that it first became aware of concerns in June 2013 and that they took “immediate action” and placed Prof Eljamel “under supervision” while they reviewed his work.

They also called in the ­Royal College of Surgeons in ­England to investigate Prof Eljamel. But the documentary claims that even at the point the surgeon was under supervision, he was still able to harm patients.

The programme also says an internal NHS Tayside report stated the recognised ­practice was for a surgeon to carry out an X-ray on the patient’s spine on the operating table to ensure surgery was carried out on the correct disc, but that Prof Eljamel would instead “manually manipulate and count the spinal bones”, and operate without taking the X-ray.

The documentary also claims he taught junior ­surgeons to operate in this way, and that they too harmed patients.

A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside said: “There has been much learning by the organisation immediately following these events and many improvements have been made over the past five years.”

Prof Eljamel’s lawyer told BBC Scotland his client had “no comment to make”.