Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Widower calls on medical watchdog to reinvestigate top surgeon after he is criticised over fatal op

Janine Murtagh on her wedding day with husband Stephen
Janine Murtagh on her wedding day with husband Stephen

A widower has asked the General Medical Council to investigate a leading Northern Ireland surgeon for the second time.

Stephen Murtagh has written to the regulatory body demanding an investigation into Professor Neil McClure (right), whose surgical team's performance was described as "substandard" at the recent inquest into the death of Lynn Lewis.

Mrs Lewis died from a combination of haemorrhage and hyponatraemia during a minor operation performed by Prof McClure at the Ulster Independent Clinic in Belfast in 2011 to remove a large fibroid from her uterus.

Senior coroner John Leckey found "personal and institutional failings" by Prof McClure and his team in the care of Mrs Lewis (38), a mother-of-two from Ahorey.

Mr Murtagh has taken an interest in Mrs Lewis's case because his wife Janine (31) died at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, in 2002 following complications after an initial operation performed by Prof McClure.

Her bowel was torn during a minor investigatory procedure at the Royal Maternity Hospital which proved more complicated than expected, requiring an emergency operation at the RVH two days later.

Six weeks later the young nurse, who had hoped to become a mother, died from peritonitis arising from the undetected damage to her bowel.

The treatment and care of Mrs Murtagh was severely criticised by coroner John Leckey at her inquest in 2004.

It also sparked a major review by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority so that lessons could be learned from the "systems failure" which led to Mrs Murtagh's death. There was no individual criticism by the RQIA of Prof McClure or any other member of staff in its review, or indeed in the hospital's own report.

Moreover, in response to a complaint made by Mr Murtagh (46) to the GMC in 2005, it said that Prof McClure had no case to answer.

The RVH introduced a series of recommendations and policy changes following the RQIA review in October, 2005.

However, Mr Murtagh warned on a UTV Insight programme in March, 2006: "There is another Janine Murtagh waiting to happen out there, because the same people are involved."

None of the other surgical team members involved in Mrs Lewis's operation, which was performed by Prof McClure in a private capacity, were involved in Mrs Murtagh's care.

Although the circumstances of Mrs Lewis's death are different to that of his late wife, Mr Murtagh contends that because Prof McClure's care has recently been publicly criticised by the coroner and because he was one of the practitioners involved in his wife's case, it is appropriate to appeal to the GMC to review the matter again.

In his letter to the GMC's Fitness to Practice Directorate in Manchester, Mr Murtagh stated: "It is now a matter of public record that Professor McClure's clinical performance... has been severely criticised, yet he remained uncensored or disciplined by his employer or the GMC."

Mr Murtagh listed as evidence to the GMC 12 areas of responsibilities which Prof McClure personally accepted as failings in Mrs Lewis's case.

Prof McClure is a highly respected obstetrician and gynaecologist who works as a consultant at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast.

Acclaimed for helping many infertile couples have children, he is also Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Queen's University, Belfast.

Following Mrs Lewis's inquest, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said it was confident that Prof McClure was "able to provide a safe and effective gynaecology service to our patients".

Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph attempted to contact Prof McClure to get his reaction to Mr Murtagh's appeal, but we have not yet received any response.

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