Liver surgery deaths referred to South Wales Police
- 11 December 2013
- From the section South East Wales
The deaths of patients following liver surgery at a Cardiff hospital have been referred to South Wales Police.
Prof David Paul Berry was suspended from the University Hospital of Wales in January.
Eight patient deaths in his care were "avoidable", said a review for the health board.
South Wales Police said it had liaised with the coroner and was "now in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service to examine the facts".
Earlier on Wednesday, Health Minister Mark Drakeford dismissed calls for a review of all Welsh hospitals to address public concerns about standards of NHS care following the case.
He told AMs in the Senedd the matter had come to light "without any external review".
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams had tabled an urgent question asking for a statement from the minister.
He responded: "Any avoidable death in the NHS care is a matter for profound regret and a cause for deep distress to families.
"All organisations must have robust clinical governance systems in place to routinely audit patient outcomes and take immediate action if concerns emerge.
"The suspension of a surgeon at the University Hospital of Wales was the result of such a process."
He rejected a request by the Conservatives to act on a call from the Royal College of Surgeons to hold a review into Welsh hospitals.
Mr Drakeford had said earlier he was satisfied systems in place provided "early warning systems" if something went wrong.
He added: "Where things arise where I do feel there is a need for an independent outside look at what is going on in order to provide public assurance, then I will do that."
Earlier, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board's medical director Dr Graham Shortland said an internal audit had highlighted concern and they had taken steps to "ensure the public are safe".
BBC Wales discovered on Tuesday that Prof Berry had been suspended at the start of the year.
It has since emerged he was suspended at the same time from Spire Cardiff Hospital where he had a private practice.
Prof Berry, who moved to work in south Wales from the Leicester area, was originally stopped from carrying out complex surgery in October 2012 following concerns about the outcomes of some liver patients in his care.
An initial internal investigation confirmed the health board's concerns and he was fully suspended from duties in January this year.
Two further independent reviews by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) followed.
The second RCS review, of the individual care of 31 patients who underwent complex liver surgery by the surgeon, found that 10 later died and eight of those 10 deaths were avoidable.
The health board's medical director told BBC Wales' Good Morning Wales programme: "This is about complex liver surgery and not about other surgery that was performed."
Dr Shortland added that an initial independent review showed "this was not a service problem this was a problem with an individual surgeon".
When asked why had the matter only just come to the wider public's attention, Dr Shortland said: "We felt it was very important to have a discussion with those families affected and we would have made sure this was taken into the public domain at an appropriate time.
"Our duty was to inform those families first."
The health board has issued "unreserved apologies" to every family affected.
Stephen Allen, chief officer of patient watchdog Cardiff and Vale Community Health Council, said: "It's a distressing time for the families concerned and we can't imagine what they are going through."
Maria Davies's partner Martyn Rogers, from Newport, died after undergoing treatment last year and she has instructed lawyers to investigate further.
Solicitor Emma Rush said Ms Davies had "inklings" something was amiss and this was confirmed by the RCS review.
"As far as Maria is concerned losing a loved one is horrific in any situation.
"But when you then subsequently find out that you've lost that loved one and the death was avoidable, I can't even begin to imagine how that makes Maria feel.
"Clearly she is devastated," Ms Rush added.
A helpline for anyone who is concerned about the surgical care they received at the hospital in relation to liver surgery between February 2011 and October 2012 has been set up.
The helpline number is 0800 952 0244 and will be open from noon to 20:00 GMT every day from Wednesday, December 11 to Friday, December 13.
On Wednesday evening Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust said the helpline had received 42 calls.
Dr Shortland added: "We are also pleased that the two remaining families who we have been trying to contact for some time have been in touch and we can offer them appropriate support."
University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust said Prof Berry's results in the year before he left for Wales were "in line with those of his peers" but over a longer period there were times when they "were not as good as those of his colleagues".
The trust has sought advice from the Royal College of Surgeons about the need for a similar "look back" exercise carried out in Wales.
It is to open a freephone patient helpline - 0808 178 8337 - on Thursday 10 December to run from 10am and 4pm daily, until further notice.