Solicitors representing the families of cancer patients who died after potentially avoidable surgical complications have criticised the hospital for refusing to publish a report into the cases.
A total of five patients all died within a year following upper gastrointestinal (GI) surgery at Maidstone Hospital in Kent, run by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust.
Upper GI surgery has been suspended and the trust is now sending patients requiring it to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London instead.
The incidents have been referred to the General Medical Council (GMC), and the trust has conducted its own internal inquiry.
The trust has said previously that “while members of staff have been held to account, their overall standard of practice does not support further sanctions”.
The trust has apologised to the families affected and it has highlighted the need for improvements to be made.
But Thomson Snell & Passmore, who represent a number of patients or families of victims, have said that the trust has turned down its request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to disclose the anonymised report produced by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).
The report, which was produced at the hospital’s request, looked into the practices of the hospital and patient safety, and made recommendations.
Solicitor Sharon Lam said: “We have a significant number of patients who approached us concerning upper GI laparoscopic surgeries that went wrong between 2008 and 2014.
“The period is not just limited to 2012 and 2013 as the hospital has alleged. Only by releasing the report would we have some idea of the number of the potential victims.
“The patients and their families have a right to know the outcome of the investigation and whether the surgeons concerned are still practising the same type of surgery privately. It is clearly in the public interest to ensure that the report is disclosed as soon as possible. We are currently in correspondence with the hospital in the hope of persuading them to change their mind.”
Ms Lam said that the hospital was relying on a Section 41 exemption which would normally only be applicable if disclosure would constitute a breach of confidence against RCS. However, she said that Thomson Snell & Passmore had contacted RCS who had confirmed that they had no objection to the disclosure.
She said that the other reason given was because the report contained information that was intended for future publication by the hospital. Ms Lam said that this exemption normally applied to research projects and there was no indication from the hospital that the report was going to be released.
A trust spokesman said that any allegations of medical negligence had not been proven and the RCS report did not raise concerns about the quality of surgical care for this group of patients before 2012-13.
He said: “We have been consistently clear that we will make the recommendations of the review publicly available once we have met with the families involved and shared these with them. This is to give them the time and space to discuss any aspects of their loved ones’ care with us first within the context of the report’s findings, which are reflected in the recommendations.
“The review of upper GI cancer surgery did not identify wider issues pre-2012-13 and mortality rates for this service were within national levels.”