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Liver surgeon suspended by GMC

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

Consultant surgeon David Paul Berry, based at University Hospital Wales, has been banned by the General Medical Council (GMC) from doing any further liver surgery.

A professional review of 31 of his patients while with the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, found that 10 went on to die, and "eight of those 10 deaths were avoidable. "

The veteran surgeon, who moved to work in Wales from the Leicester area, was active with the health board for 18 months before he was suspended.

Concerns about the consultant surgeon, a respected specialist in his field, were first raised through the normal monitoring procedures operating at the health board in October 2012.

Officials identified concerns about the care and treatment of a number of patients who had undergone liver surgery led by the consultant.

As a result Dr Berry was immediately placed on restrictive practice while an internal investigation was carried out.

The findings from that investigation were serious enough for Dr Berry to be fully suspended while he was referred to the General Medical Council.

A team from the Royal College of Surgeons was then also called in and an in depth professional investigation carried out.

It uncovered the eight "avoidable deaths" linked to his surgery at the hospital.

Bosses at the health board revealed the full extent of their findings today as the partner of one of the eight began legal action to find out exactly what happened.

Martyn Rogers, 66, of Newport, south Wales, died of blood poisoning and acute liver failure in summer 2012 at University Hospital Wales.

Within three days of undergoing a liver surgery procedure, his organs began shutting down and it was discovered one of his major veins had been damaged.

His death on July 25 came one week after surgeon Dr Berry carried out the vital operation to remove tumours from his liver.

Maria Davies, his partner of 40 years , has instructed medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell to launch their own investigate into what happened in the case of Mr Rogers.

She is concerned about the care other patients may have received and is demanding to know what measures are being to protect patient safety by the health board.

The health board revealed tonight that it had already set up an emergency helpline for anyone concerned about the care they have received for liver surgery over the period when Dr Berry was active.

A spokesman for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board (UHB) said it could: "C onfirm that a specialist liver surgeon working at the University Hospital of Wales was fully suspended from duty in January 2013 following concerns about the outcomes of some liver patients whilst in his care.

"The experienced surgeon was employed by the UHB in February 2011. The UHB identified concerns about the care and treatment of a number his patients who had undergone liver surgery through its normal monitoring procedures in October 2012.

"The surgeon was immediately placed on a period of restricted practice pending the outcome of an internal investigation, which confirmed the UHB's initial concerns and resulted in the surgeon being fully suspended from all duties in January 2013. He was also referred to the General Medical Council. The surgeon concerned remains fully suspended."

It added: " The UHB subsequently commissioned an independent review of its liver service by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), the outcome of which reinforced the UHB's view.

"As a result, the UHB commissioned a second, detailed review by the RCS of the individual care of some 31 patients who underwent complex liver surgery by this surgeon, 10 of whom sadly died following that surgery. The outcome of this detailed review showed that eight of those 10 deaths were avoidable."

Medical director, Dr Graham Shortland, said the UHB's normal checks on surgeons' clinical outcomes had identified the original concerns and that no current liver patients were at risk.

"Every death is a tragedy for the family concerned, but we do not underestimate the impact of a death in these circumstances. We would like at the outset to put on record our unreserved apologies to Ms Davies, and every family who has been affected.

"The UHB 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.

"As a health board, our absolute focus is on the safety and quality of the care we give to our patients. Anomalies in this surgeon's results were picked up by us from routine clinical data, which we scrutinise rigorously across the organisation.

"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 said: "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."

Emma Rush, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell representing Ms Davies, said: "The report by the Royal College of Surgeons into Martyn's death is deeply concerning and Maria understandably wants answers about why her partner's death has been described as avoidable.

"We welcome the GMC investigation and hope that the health board will work with us quickly and amicably to provide Maria with information about her loss and also provide reassurance that every possible step has been taken to protect future patient safety."

Ms Davies said: "Martyn had suffered bowel cancer since 2010 along with liver metastases but we were led to believe that the surgery would remove the tumours and ultimately prolong his life.

"To learn that Martyn's death could have been avoided is very difficult to comprehend and has left me feeling angry. I want to know why his treatment was not better and I am also concerned that other patients may have been affected as the RCS report suggests poor operative skills were partly to blame.

"I would also like to know what steps are being taken by the board within the hospital to ensure no one else suffers the same unnecessary ordeal."

The UHB 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 noon to 8pm from tomorrow to Friday, December 13.


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