The consultant at the centre of a major health scare is being paid an award of almost £56,000 a year on top of his salary in recognition of his work.
It is the latest revelation in a crisis that has shaken public confidence in the NHS — with questions being asked over why bosses at the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust did not act more quickly when concerns were raised over the work of one of its top dentists.
It has now emerged Professor Philip Lamey, a consultant in oral medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital, has been receiving a clinical excellence award of at least £55,924 every year since 2001.
And the money was still paid to him even though the Belfast Trust referred him to the General Dental and General Medical councils over concerns over his fitness to practise at the end of 2009.
More shocking details over the possible late diagnoses of cancer patients treated by Professor Lamey have emerged as Health Minister Michael McGimpsey says he was kept in the dark over the scandal.
It has emerged up to 15 people being treated by Professor Lamey could have had a late cancer diagnosis.
Four of them have since died, although the Belfast Trust has said it may be impossible to ever tell whether the delays contributed to the deaths.
While the issue first came to light at the end of 2009, Michael McGimpsey has told the Assembly he was only told the full extent of the situation last Monday and has announced an urgent independent investigation.
Mr McGimpsey appeared in front of his Assembly colleagues yesterday to provide clarification on the matter, but questions continue to be asked as it has emerged:
- Professor Lamey was allowed to continue teaching dental students at Queen’s University until December last year despite the fact concerns were raised over his fitness to practise over 12 months before.
- More patients than previously thought have been caught up in the confusion. Mr McGimpsey said there were 22 patients about whom there were urgent concerns, and 135 have been recalled.
- While he said it took the Belfast Trust a year to review all of Professor Lamey’s patients, there has been no explanation on why it waited until the review was complete before beginning to recall patients.
- Mr McGimpsey was first told about the concerns in December 2009 but only received a full update 13 months later when he asked for information.
- The top civil servant in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Andrew McCormick, was not aware of the issue as late as the end of January this year.
Mr McGimpsey said there has been a "breakdown in communication in the health and social care service and in my department".
He continued: “I therefore will be initiating an urgent independent inquiry into these matters.
“I expect this inquiry will be rigorous and independent. It will examine the quality of care to patients, the circumstances surrounding this issue and the subsequent handling.
“The communication of information on such an important matter is something which will be a key focus in my upcoming review of this issue.
“This will include an investigation of all actions taken by my department, the trust and the board.”
Mr McGimpsey said he was planning to address his Stormont colleagues on the matter after learning the full extent of the issues but the trust was forced to issue the recall late on Friday afternoon after details were leaked to the media.
Letters were hand-delivered by courier to all patients deemed to need a check-up on Saturday morning.
Mr McGimpsey said experts who have reviewed patient files have said it is not necessary to see any patients treated by Professor Lamey before 2009.
Questions pile up
Why was professor receiving an excellence award of £56,000 a year even though he is not allowed to see patients unsupervised?
Why was he allowed to continue teaching students for a year after concerns over his work were raised?
Why was the Health Minister kept in dark|and only told of the full situation one week ago?
Why did Belfast Health & Social Care Trust not act more quickly when concerns were raised?