NHS Trust: Patients’ deaths may have been avoidable

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Potentially avoidable surgical complications may have contributed to the deaths of five cancer patients, an NHS Trust has revealed.

The five all died within a year following upper gastrointestinal (GI) surgery at Maidstone Hospital in Kent, run by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.

Upper GI surgery has been suspended and the trust is now sending patients requiring it to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London instead.

The incidents have been referred to the General Medical Council (GMC), and the trust has conducted its own internal inquiry. It said that “while members of staff have been held to account, their overall standard of practice does not support further sanctions”.

The trust has apologised to the families affected and it has highlighted the need for improvements to be made.

Medical director Dr Paul Sigston said: “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.

“We are in contact with, and have apologised to, the families who have been affected and have been clear that we need to make improvements.”

As part of its review, the trust commissioned an assessment of its upper GI cancer surgery by the Royal College of Surgeons last year.

It highlighted that the service had a higher-than-expected complication rate in 2012 and last year, resulting in longer post-operative recovery times for some patients.

In a statement, the trust said: “The trust’s review has since established that while the outcomes for patients who had this surgery were within expected levels, including one and three years survival, surgical complications may have contributed to the deaths of five patients during 2012/13.

“These were associated with the use of laparoscopic techniques and were potentially avoidable.”

The arrangement with St Thomas’ will continue for 12 months while the trust tries to improve its upper GI cancer surgery service.

Patients will still receive most of the upper GI intestinal cancer care locally, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and initial surgical assessment.