Police have opened an investigation into the deaths of a number of patients who were under the care of a surgeon suspended from work amid concerns over safety.
Sudip Sarker was excluded by the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust in October 2012 under the urgent advice of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), which had been called in to investigate his clinical practice.
A dedicated helpline for patients who had concerns about him took calls from 51 people last summer. Officers from West Mercia Police did not reveal how many patients were involved in their investigation, but confirmed that three patients whose deaths were the subject of a joint inquest held in December last year would form part of the inquiry.
Mr Sarker worked as a consultant colorectal surgeon, specialising in keyhole surgery for colon cancer, at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch and the Worcestershire Royal Hospital, from August 2011 until his suspension little more than a year later.
He is also being investigated by the General Medical Council, and his registration as a doctor is currently subject to interim conditions.
North Worcestershire Superintendent Kevin Purcell said the investigation began after police received a letter at the end of last year. “We were made aware that there were a number of concerns in relation to the deaths of patients in 2012 who had been under Mr Sarker’s care,” Supt Purcell said. “We are in the early stages of obtaining the relevant information from hospitals and other health organisations in order to conduct our investigation.” The families of patients who were subject of the inquest had been informed and were being updated on the situation, he said.
“This is a complex matter which will undoubtedly take a considerable amount of time to investigate thoroughly,” he said. “We are very mindful of the importance of patient confidentiality and the impact on the wider community.”
The trust said it was co-operating fully with the police and that it had acted “swiftly and responsibly” as soon potential problems were brought to light. Medical records of all Mr Sarker’s patients who underwent a major operation, such as for bowel cancer, had been reviewed, the trust said.
“Patients we were concerned about were recalled for further assessment and appropriate investigations,” a spokesperson said. “A separate review of all patients who had any contact with Mr Sarker is being performed by a team of specialist external surgeons.”
The RCS review looked at a sample of Mr Sarker’s patients. Although the report has not been published, it was reported that it showed his mortality rates were twice as high as other surgeons in a similar field and that one in five of his patients had to be readmitted after surgery.
However, surgical outcomes figures compiled by the Association of Coloproctology showed a mortality rate for Mr Sarker comparable with those for many other colorectal surgeons.
An RCS spokesperson said: “At the invitation of the trust, the Royal College of Surgeons carried out an invited review of the practice of a colorectal surgeon in October 2012. At the end of our visit we gave immediate advice to the trust’s medical director to stop the surgeon from contact with patients while the trust’s further investigations continued and recommended that the trust contacted the GMC.”