Liver specialist suspended from duty at University Hospital of Wales

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Media captionDr Graham Shortland, of the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, said the Royal College of Surgeons was asked to look into the issue

Health chiefs have suspended a specialist liver surgeon linked to the "avoidable deaths" of eight patients he operated on in Cardiff.

Consultant surgeon Prof David Paul Berry was based at the University Hospital of Wales.

A professional review of 31 of his patients found that 10 died, and "eight of those 10 deaths were avoidable".

The Cardiff and Vale University Health Board has issued "unreserved apologies" to every family affected.

A patient watchdog said families of those affected are being supported.

"It's a distressing time for the families concerned and we can't imagine what they are going through," said Stephen Allen, chief officer of Cardiff and Vale Community Health Council.

BBC Wales discovered on Tuesday that Prof Berry had been suspended at the start of the year.

Prof Berry, who moved to work in south Wales from the Leicester area, was originally put on restricted practice 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.

"Every death is a tragedy for the family concerned, but we do not underestimate the impact of a death in these circumstances," said Cardiff and Vale University Health Board's medical director, Dr Graham Shortland.

"We would like at the outset to put on record our unreserved apologies to every family who has been affected."

The surgeon was also referred to the General Medical Council.

"The health board has been in dialogue with the majority of those families concerned for some time and has put individual advocates in place to support them through this difficult period. There are two families who have not responded to our repeated correspondence," Dr Shortland added.

"As a health board, our absolute focus is on the safety and quality of the care we give to our patients."

'Worrying time'

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Media captionThe solicitor of a woman whose partner died after surgery by Prof Berry had some "inklings that things weren't quite right"

Dr Shortland said the health board picked up "anomalies" in the surgeon's results from "routine clinical data" which was scrutinised.

"We have worked with the Royal College of Surgeons, and our own staff, to make sure we are clear about the numbers of people whose care and treatment may have been affected by this issue," he added.

"We appreciate this is a worrying time for patients and their families and would like to reassure patients who are receiving or awaiting liver surgery at the moment that the UHB has full confidence in the current liver service at the University Hospital of Wales."

The health board has set up a helpline for anyone who is concerned about the surgical care they received in relation to liver surgery between February 2011 and October 2012.

The helpline number is 0800 952 0244 and will be open from 12 noon to 8pm every day from Wednesday, December 11 to Friday, December 13.

A Welsh government spokesperson said it was "aware of this serious issue and appreciate how concerning and upsetting this is for the families affected".

"The health board reported this to the Welsh government in line with our serious incident reporting requirements," said a spokesperson.

"We are satisfied that they took appropriate steps to ensure patient safety as they commissioned an independent review and are now acting on those findings."

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