Sam Eljamel: Public inquiry to be held into disgraced brain surgeon

Posted: 8th September 2023

A public inquiry will be held into the disgraced brain surgeon Sam Eljamel, the Scottish government has confirmed.

Eljamel harmed dozens of patients at NHS Tayside, leaving some with life-changing injuries.

He was head of neurosurgery at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee until December 2013, when he was suspended.

Health Secretary Michael Matheson said he was persuaded of the need for the inquiry after reading a damning due diligence review into NHS Tayside.

It follows a long-running campaign which saw almost 150 former patients of the surgeon calling for the inquiry.

At First Minister’s Questions, Humza Yousaf said the decision was taken after “very careful consideration” of the “extremely disturbing” findings of a due diligence review into NHS Tayside.

It found that concerns about Eljamel were not acted upon with the urgency they deserved.

Mr Matheson told MSPs he had been unconvinced of the need for a public inquiry until he read that report.

He said it had revealed significant information that had not previously been known by the Scottish government, despite eight reviews since 2018.

“That raised serious concerns for me on the openness and the transparency there has been to date from NHS Tayside,” he added.

Mr Matheson said he had concluded that a public inquiry was “the only route to get to the bottom of who knew what and when, and what contributed to the failures described by NHS Tayside”.

The health secretary said he also wanted to see individual cases reviewed independently of NHS Tayside in a “person-centred, trauma-informed” manner.

There have been mounting calls for a public inquiry since BBC Scotland’s Disclosure programme discovered in 2018 that dozens of people claimed to have been harmed by the surgeon.

A report published last week criticised NHS Tayside managers for putting the doctor under indirect supervision in June 2013, rather than suspending him.

It meant he was allowed to continue operating until he was suspended in December that year.

Jules Rose, a former patient of Eljamel who has become a leading campaigner for an inquiry, met with ministers ahead of the statement to parliament.

She said she was “absolutely delighted” with the decision but would reserve final judgement until the terms of reference were made clear.

Ms Rose had a tear gland removed instead of brain tumour in August 2013. Eljamel performed a second operation on her on 9 December that year.

She said she believed she was the only patient to be operated on by Eljamel twice during the six month period when he should have been suspended.

Becoming emotional, she told BBC Scotland News: “Ironic, because as you can see, I can only cry from one eye.

“He removed the wrong part of my body and I don’t know why. Only he can answer that. But I’ve accepted I will never get that answer.

“But I will get the answers now through a public inquiry – why Tayside allowed this butcher surgeon to commit the harm that he did to myself and the names of 150 other patients that I have.”

Analysis By Lucy Adams – Social affairs correspondent, BBC Scotland

For Jules Rose, this announcement is a decade in the making. For many of the other 150 patients calling for a public inquiry it goes back even further.

Five years ago our investigation into Eljamel revealed for the first time exactly how much the health board knew and when and how long they allowed their head of neurosurgery to carry on operating and harming patients.

It led to the police investigation into the surgeon. And that is still ongoing. Years of further revelations by us and others and campaigning by patients like Jules and MSPs like Liz Smith, has led to this moment.

Earlier this year, Health Secretary Michael Matheson was adamant there would be no public inquiry and instead announced an independent review. The patients unanimously rejected that.

Then in June we published a story about NHS whistleblowers saying the board knew even earlier that there were serious concerns about the surgeon.

It seems the steady drip of revelations and last week’s report by the health board itself has left ministers with little other choice than a full public inquiry.

Presentational grey line

At Holyrood, tributes were paid to the campaigners including Ms Rose and Patrick Kelly, who found out years after a spine operation by Eljamel that the intended surgery had not been carried out.

Labour MSP Michael Marra said the announcement should have come sooner. He told Mr Yousaf the inquiry had been “wrung out of the government like blood from a stone” by victims of botched surgeries.

Mr Yousaf said: “Professor Eljamel is responsible for his despicable actions but where there are systematic failings then they must absolutely be interrogated and lessons must be learned.”

He added that it was to the “credit of the brave patients” that the inquiry was being set up.

Liz Smith, a Scottish Conservative MSP, said the stories of Eljamel’s patients were “some of the most harrowing” she had ever heard.

“His patients have suffered permanent medical and psychological pain and their attempts to get the whole truth have been rejected at every turn,” she said.

Ms Smith called for a victims support fund for the patients and added: “This public inquiry should be set up without delay and it must deliver all the answers Eljamel’s victims have sought for years.

“Nothing less will be acceptable.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said: “The Cabinet Secretary has made the right decision today, but I am afraid that it has taken far too long.

“Patients have suffered both physically and mentally throughout all of this. As time has gone on, they have become increasingly angry; faith and trust have completely broken down.

It is understood that Eljamel now works as a surgeon in Libya.

Source: Sam Eljamel: Public inquiry to be held into disgraced brain surgeon – BBC News

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