Bad atmosphere at hospital contributed to patient deaths

A leaked document has revealed that rows between surgeons may have contributed to a higher mortality rate at St George’s Hospital in London, raising questions about potential medical negligence claims that may follow as a result. The concerns relate to the cardiac surgery unit within the hospital.

The report seen by The Times newspaper has highlighted how the average mortality rate nationally was 2% but at this specific unit the rate was almost twice as high at 3.7% due to a bad atmosphere amongst surgeons. It is also thought that there were insufficient internal processes to stop these from occurring.

An external review was introduced back in April in order to try and establish the causes behind the higher than average mortality rate. As part of the review 39 staff were interviewed where it was established that the primary cause behind the high mortality rate was the bad atmosphere amongst the surgeons within the unit. It became apparent that the surgical team was split into two groups that were dysfunctional and were even exhibiting “tribal-like activity”.

St George’s hospital is one of the largest teaching hospitals in the UK, however the trust that runs it – St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was placed into special measures and is currently graded as requires improvement by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The cardiac centre offers routine cardiac surgery for adults as well as expertise in a number of specialities receiving referrals nationwide.

It is not known how many of the deaths in the cardiac surgery unit were directly attributable to the poor atmosphere between the surgeons but the report is shocking as it identifies it as a primary cause of the higher than average mortality rate. Those who have experienced suffering as a result may which to pursue a hospital negligence claim in order to seek compensation.

The report has called for drastic measures to be taken in order to reduce the high mortality rate. This includes the immediate relocation of all cardiac surgeons to a single- speciality practice, new leadership and new on the ground additional support to ensure the quickest possible turnaround. However, this may come as small comfort for those already impacted by the issues who may be in the process of pursuing suing a surgeon as a result.

NHS England Deputy Medical Director, Professor Mike Bewick’s was quoted by The Times as saying:

“Some felt that there was a persistent toxic atmosphere and stated that there was a ‘dark force’ in the unit. In our view the whole team shares responsibility for the failure to significantly improve professional relationships and to a degree surgical mortality.”

It is thought that the issues affecting the cardiac surgery unit were isolated and do not impact any other departments within the hospital, however it is understandable that patient perception is likely to take a long time to be restored following the shocking revelations.

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