The wife of a patient and a campaign group have urged Brighton hospital bosses to suspend surgeons whose work is being investigated by police.
Police are reviewing 40 deaths over six years as well as claims that mistakes were made in the treatment of more than 100 patients.
A report published on the Guardian newspaper’s website referred to a widening investigation into alleged medical negligence and cover-ups over dozens of deaths and harm to patients.
But Sussex Police has not said how many cases are under investigation in the general surgery and neurosurgery departments at Royal Sussex County Hospital, in Brighton.
The force has said that an investigation is taking place and is known as Operation Bamber. The period covered by Op Bamber is from 2015 to 2021.
University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Royal Sussex, has not suspended any of the surgeons involved – nor has the General Medical Council suspended them or restricted their practice.
The Guardian quoted Audrey Sharma, whose husband Jugal was left severely disabled in April 2020 after he was misdiagnosed as having a grade 4 tumour requiring an immediate operation.
Mr Sharma, 63, from Hove, is the former head of housing at Brighton and Hove City Council.
During surgery he suffered a stroke which University Hospitals Sussex said that this was an “unavoidable complication”.
Mrs Sharma wrote to the trust, expressing concern that the neurosurgeon involved was still operating on patients. She wrote: “Surely he should be suspended pending the investigation outcome.”
She also wrote: “Your harsh treatment of whistleblowers gives me no faith that any lessons have been learned/implemented by your organisation.”
She said that the hospital had refused to disclose internal concerns about the surgeons’ complication rates, adding: “I can choose a restaurant or hotel with more confidence than a surgeon.”
The Guardian said that Brainstrust, a charity campaigning for people with brain cancer, had backed the call to suspend surgeons.
Brainstrust chief executive Will Jones said: “Transparency should prevail. If people know what is going on they are more likely to feel reassured and high levels of trust will be maintained.
“In the interests of patient and staff wellbeing, it would be logical if any member of patient-facing staff at any hospital that is involved in an ongoing police investigation relating to their work to be suspended, without prejudice, until an outcome is reached.”
The neurosurgeon who operated on Mr Sharma was one of six named in a 70-page dossier, compiled in 2021. It details “worrying cases of mortality and permanent severe morbidity” at the hospital.
The dossier was written by Mansoor Foroughi, a neurosurgeon turned whistleblower. He was sacked by University Hospitals Sussex in 2021 for allegedly raising these concerns in bad faith.
But his claims, and those of another consultant, Krishna Singh, who lost his post as clinical director after blowing the whistle about problems in general surgery, prompted the police investigation.
Three of the neurosurgeons named in Foroughi’s dossier are still employed by the trust and operating on patients, the Guardian said. None of the hospital’s nine neurosurgeons are under investigation by the General Medical Council.
The Guardian quoted from a letter sent on behalf of the trust’s chief executive, George Findlay, in which University Hospitals Sussex said that any investigation into a specific case was a matter for police to divulge.
The letter said that a number of cases were being reviewed but denied that particular surgeons were being investigated.
The letter on behalf of Dr Findlay said: “We do not think that your husband had a stroke due to a clinical error.”
A copy of the letter was sent to Sussex Police and, the Guardian said, the force has since asked Mrs Sharma to make a full statement about her husband’s treatment.
The news report also quoted Katie Urch, the trust’s chief medical officer. Professor Urch said: “Keeping patients as safe as possible is the single most important job we have so we will always act whenever necessary to protect people from avoidable harm.
“As well as our own internal safeguards and auditing, we closely monitor national data on patient outcomes for all our services. Those for neurosurgery are similar to the NHS standard and have been for a number of years.
“However, we always listen to recommendations on how to improve standards of care, both from inside and outside the trust, and take steps to implement them wherever we can.”