Expert Lawyers Say Trust Must Provide Reassurance That Patient Safety Is Main Priority
Patients and relatives whose family members died because a surgeon infected them with a deadly bug have spoken of their dismay at learning the surgeon responsible could be allowed to start operating again, despite seeing no proof lessons have been learnt.
John Chen Lui Lu was removed from performing heart surgery when it was discovered he transmitted a bug, staphylococcus epidermis, to patients at Nottingham’s Trent Cardiac Centre during their heart valve replacement surgery.
But now, many of those who fell victim to the outbreak in 2009 are appalled to learn from press reports that Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust are in talks with Mr Lu to allow him to begin practising again and say they were only contacted by the Trust after the announcement was made public.
During an inquest into the deaths in 2010 the Coroner criticised the Trust for not recognising the infection quick enough. It was never revealed how the infection was spread, but medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell instructed by the families of patients, submitted that the most likely explanation for the bacteria transferring from Mr Lu was his practice of changing gloves regularly which increased the chances of the bacteria transferring to the patient.
Following investigations by Irwin Mitchell, the Trust admitted responsibility for failures and agreed financial settlements for the firm’s seven clients.
David Tyson, 68, who contracted the infection after undergoing a heart valve replacement by Mr Lu in June 2009, says he is appalled that the surgeon could be allowed to operate again.
The father-of-two, from Nottingham, said: “After hearing the evidence at the inquest, I had understood that Mr Lu's career as a surgeon was over as it was difficult to see how he could carry out operations in the future without the risk of a re-occurrence, so we simply cannot understand what has now changed.
“What makes matters worse is the fact that we had to find out from newspaper reports that the Trust was considering Mr Lu’s return to performing surgery, rather than being contacted by the Trust directly, which clearly would have been the courteous thing to do considering what we have been through.
“I only received a letter from Dr Stephen Fowlie, the Trust’s Medical Director, a week after reading a story in the press where they state that they have taken on board a number of recommendations and a re-entry programme for Mr Lu to return to surgery. However, I have not been provided with any details about what these are. This letter was the first communication I have received about any progress since 2010, despite the letter saying that patients were involved in the process.
“This provides us with no reassurance that lessons have been learnt as we simply do not know specific details about why it is deemed acceptable for Mr Lu to begin operating again. I am concerned that other patients may be at risk and I believe patients deserve clear reassurance about how they will be kept safe. I therefore call on the Trust to make public the reports and recommendations that they are relying on in relation to their recent decisions.”
Denise Edwards, the daughter of another of Mr Lu’s patients, Dennis Mills, also from Nottingham, who died as a result of the infection in December 2009 at the age of 82, was shocked when she read the news about the possibility of Mr Lu returning to surgery.
She said, “I have not been provided with any evidence that supports that Mr Lu is safe to re-commence cardiac surgery. I have also not been provided with details of what lessons have been learnt following the outbreak and how the Trust would ensure that such a situation can never be allowed to occur again.
“I lived through the trauma and distress of seeing my father, who was a fit and active man before having his surgery, slowly deteriorating and eventually dying as a result of the infection. Not only did I lose my father, but my elderly mother lost her husband of 56 years.
“I fail to understand how the Trust can maintain that they are protecting patient safety, when patient safety was so severely compromised during the outbreak of infection that affected Mr Lu’s patients. Surely, when there is still no definitive explanation as to how the bacteria transferred from Mr Lu to his patients, it is too much of a risk to patient safety for Mr Lu to be able to return to surgery. Patients and their relatives should never have to go through this nightmare again.”
Laura Barlow is a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell who led the legal action against the Trust.
Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to surgery claims