PERFORMANCE: Patients from the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells area are being sent to St Thomas’ Hospital in London for upper gastro intestinal cancer surgery procedures amid concerns about services in the area, it has emerged.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust commissioned an assessment by the Royal College of Surgeons of its upper GI cancer surgery service last year.

The trust confirmed last week that the findings of the RCS review were sent to the trust in December, and revealed the service had a higher than expected number of complications in 2012-13, which resulted in longer post-operative recovery times for some patients.

The trust has since then conducted its own review, which found the complications that might have contributed to the deaths of five patients during 2012-13 were “unusual” and “probably associated with laparoscopic techniques”. It indicates there could be a link between standards and the deaths.

The upper GI service was suspended in July last year, as the review began. Following the reviews, the trust has decided it will be suspended for a further year, and patients will be sent to St Thomas’ until February 2015.

The trust said it had “proactively” taken this decision to “ensure all aspects of patient care are of the highest standard”.

The trust’s medical director Paul Sigston said: “We are sorry that some patients did not receive the level of care and treatment that they should have due to potentially avoidable surgical complications. We are in contact with, and have apologised to, the families who have been affected and have been clear that we need to make improvements.”

The trust has referred the case to the General Medical Council, the professional regulator of doctors, for review. The trust confirmed no members of staff are under investigation.