NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Medical staff call for judicial review of NHS Grampian

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary
Image caption Serious issues were identified at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary by inspectors last year

A letter calling for an urgent judicial review of medical management at NHS Grampian has been sent to Health Secretary Shona Robison.

It has been signed by a group of mainly retired medical staff, and criticises the treatment of whistleblowers at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Ms Robison said she had full confidence in the NHS's whistleblowing procedures.

The health board said it will not discuss matters involving individual members of staff.

A total of 22 medical professionals, including former hospital consultants, have put their names to the letter.

They claim that whistleblowers have been "isolated, dislocated from their work to the detriment of patients, subjected to damaging psychological pressure and finally referred to the GMC and suspended from duty".

'Eroding patient care'

The letter also accused the health board of "appearing to go completely against the clear public interest of effective and stable service delivery" in dealing with two suspended surgeons.

The letter stated: "Last year, with the departure of most of the executive board members from NHS Grampian, including the chairman, CEO and medical director, and with the publication of the report from Health Improvement Scotland, many people felt relief that NHS Grampian was now on course to recover from the catastrophically self-destructive process which had incrementally been eroding patient care while dramatically inflating expenditure by replacing established staff with temporary locums.

"We are glad to have the new chairman and CEO in post, both men of substance, experience and integrity.

"Most regrettably, the recent suspension of professor Zyg Krukowski and his colleague, Dr Wendy Craig, indicates that this process of suspension and referral to the General Medical Council as a substitute for proper management still appears to remain the method of choice for dealing with anyone who dares to raise a contrary opinion."

Image caption BBC Scotland was given a heavily redacted version of a surgery report in March

The authors have asked for the reinstatement of the two recently suspended surgeons "widely recognised for the excellence of their work".

While the authors acknowledged that they did not know the "precise details of the 'serious allegations' against Professor Krukowski and Dr Craig", the letter continued: "To suspend people of this calibre would need to be justified by either clinical incompetence or criminal act".

It concluded by calling for the reinstatement of the two surgeons, and demanding "an urgent and wide-ranging judicial review of medical management in NHS Grampian, focussing particularly on the use of suspensions and other disciplinary measures taken against medical staff in the last few years".

'Robust procedures'

Ms Robison said: "The NHS in Scotland has clear, robust whistleblowing procedures in place, which enable all NHS employees to speak out and be heard. I have full confidence in these, which we are clear all NHS boards in Scotland should adhere to.

"It would not be appropriate for the Scottish government to comment on any on-going employment matter between a health board and its employees. Boards should act in accordance with NHS procedures and in line with the values and behaviours expected of everyone in NHS Scotland.

"These procedures are being followed and need to be allowed to conclude. It would be completely inappropriate for any politician to become involved."

A Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) review released in December warned that patient care at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary faced a "serious impact" if problems were not "urgently addressed".

It identified concerns about leadership and culture which were impacting on the quality of care, and made 13 recommendations for improvements

The review was one of three critical reports into health care in the north east of Scotland published on the same day.

A whistleblower subsequently told BBC Scotland that staff at Aberdeen Royal were being "stretched almost to breaking point".

NHS Grampian said that it would "continue to fully support staff who raise patient safety concerns and investigate each case thoroughly".

'Challenging time'

A statement from the health board said: "NHS Grampian has been subject to reviews by Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) and the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCSE). These reports found issues with leadership and management, culture and behaviour, accountability and governance within NHS Grampian. We accepted all of the recommendations made at the time.

"We acknowledge this has been a challenging time for NHS Grampian. We firmly believe we are making good progress in addressing the issues raised.

"The HIS review did not raise any consistent or widespread concerns about patient safety or about the quality of care across NHS Grampian."

In March, NHS Grampian's refusal to publish in full a report into general surgery at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary was branded a "failure of transparency" by MSP Lewis Macdonald.

BBC Scotland was given a heavily redacted version following a Freedom of Information request.

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