Maidstone Hospital suspends cancer surgery indefinitely

Maidstone Hospital Patients needing upper gastrointestinal surgery are being sent to St Thomas' Hospital

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Keyhole surgery for upper gastrointestinal cancer (GI) has been stopped indefinitely at a Kent hospital after the deaths of five patients.

A review by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) concluded that surgeons at Maidstone Hospital were unable to provide a safe service.

Patients are now being sent to St Thomas's Hospital in London.

The hospital said three surgeons involved no longer carried out complex cancer resection surgery.

Died within year

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust has admitted potentially avoidable surgical complications could have contributed to the deaths of the cancer patients between 2012 and 2013.

All five died from within a year of having stomach or throat surgery. One family has already launched a criminal negligence claim.

One patient's story

The husband of a patient who died after surgery to remove a tumour from her oesophagus said he had not received a satisfactory explanation of what happened.

The man, who did not wish to be named, told BBC South East his wife was sitting up and chatting on the day before she died.

"Although she was tired she said she would start doing The Times crossword, which she loved to do," he said.

"So I left her and [the next morning] I had a phone call at 8 o'clock or thereabouts saying that she had died.

"I saw the surgeon [the day before] and he said things were fine.

"We feel that they have been trying to say that everything is alright but it wasn't."

The trust commissioned the RCS review but has declined to publish it despite a request by lawyers acting for patients' families under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

But following a meeting of its Clinical Advisory Group on Wednesday, the trust has released 13 recommendations made by the RCS.

The RCS said oesophageal and gastric resection service should be suspended until its other recommendations are addressed, and significant improvements have been demonstrated.

It also said oesophageal and gastric cancer resections performed using laparoscopic techniques should be suspended indefinitely.

Apologised for failings

The trust's medical director Paul Sigston said it had spoken to the families of patients who died and apologised for failings in care.

"The Trust is working with St Thomas' Hospital in London to provide upper gastro intestinal (GI) cancer surgery," he said.

"This partnership arrangement will continue while the trust implements improvements to its own upper GI cancer surgery service.

"We are sorry that some patients did not receive the level of care and treatment that they should have due to potentially avoidable surgical complications."

The three gastro-intestinal surgeons mentioned in the RCS recommendations still work for the trust but no longer carry out complex cancer resection surgery.

The incidents have been referred to the General Medical Council (GMC).

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