One in 10 heart surgeons investigated

ALMOST one in ten heart surgeons has been investigated after questions about their competence were raised by colleagues or hospital managers.

Most were subsequently cleared but the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons says it is concerned the doubts may be affecting the service to patients. When suspicion hangs over surgeons it can inhibit their readiness to perform high-risk procedures and may deter doctors from taking up the specialty. The 700-member society, which represents all heart surgeons including trainees and the retired, has held an emergency meeting to discuss the issue and will reconsider it at its regular executive meeting later this month. Professor David Wheatley, head of the department of cardiac surgery at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, told Hospital Doctor : "The society is extremely concerned. Cardiac surgery is already a demanding specialty but there is an added pressure from surgeons coming under public scrutiny and if it is perceived that they are being treated harshly or unfairly people may be put off joining the specialty."

He said 18 of the country's 199 consultant cardiothoracic surgeons had been investigated. Heart surgery is a high-risk specialty and a surgeon with a higher than normal death-rate can be spotted quickly.

The development comes as the General Medical Council continues its inquiry into heart surgeons at Bristol Royal Infirmary, where 29 babies died. Surgeons James Wisheart and Janardan Dhasmana are charged with serious professional misconduct for continuing to operate despite the high death- rate and trust chief executive John Roylance is similarly charged for allowing the operations to go ahead. All three deny the charges.

Last year heart surgeon Duncan Walker lost his appeal against a decision by the United Leeds Hospitals Trust requiring him to take early retirement following a complaint against him. Professor Wheatley said: "People who are working hard and have good results are suffering the consequences of a small number of people who are not." A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Surgeons said the contents of the Hospital Doctor article were "substantially correct" but Professor Wheatley did not wish to make any further comment.

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