Leeds children's heart surgeon Nihal Weerasena disciplinary proceedings starting today

The disciplinary proceedings against Leeds children's heart surgeon Nihal Weerasena commence today before the Medical Practitioners Tribunal in Manchester.

The allegation against Mr Weerasena is that 'between March 2008 and November 2012 whilst working as a consultant surgeon at Leeds there were a number of failings in the treatment  Mr Weerasena provided to seven (unnamed) patients'. The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service ('MPTS') is the adjudication arm of the General Medical Counsel ('GMC') that sets doctors' fitness to practice professional standards. The MPTS confirm that the allegation may be amended as the Hearing proceeds and when findings of fact are made by the Tribunal.

The Hearing is listed to take place between 9 and 27 January 2017 at St James's Buildings, 79 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6FQ.

A link to the MPTS website appears below.

http://www.mpts-uk.org/calendar/

Mystery has surrounded Mr Weerasena who is reported to have been on his full consultant pay since he ceased operating at Leeds General Infirmary in 2013.

Press reports confirm that Mr Weerasena ceased practicing at LGI in March 2013 which coincides with the temporary closure of the child cardiac unit following the intervention of Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of NHS England. This has inevitably led to speculation over the links between the two events. At the time of the temporary closure of the unit in 2013 the Trust made emphatic denials that Mr Weerasena's suspension had anything to do with his mortality rates.

In November 2015, a condition was added to Mr Weerasena's GMC registration that 'he must be supervised in all of his clinical work by a clinical supervisor'. At that time Mr Weerasena was still listed as a member of Leeds cardiac team on the Trust's website and on the NICOR (National Institute for Cardiac Outcomes Research) website.

It is understood that this was the second occasion on which concerns had been raised over Mr Weerasena's competence; in 2005 the Trust were reported to have called in the Royal College of Surgeons to review his surgical practices. The report arising from this investigations has not, to our knowledge, been published.

We act for a number of families whose children were operated on by Mr Weerasena prior to his suspension. None of these parents have been informed of the reasons for his suspension which understandably leaves them with nagging doubts as to his competence and the effect this may have had on the outcomes of their children's surgery. They also question whether this is something of which they should have been informed by LGI before they consented to surgery.

We are now in an era of increased patient autonomy. Following the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Montgomery, patients are entitled to receive any information that they may reasonably find significant. Details of risks and benefits of an operation must be explained fully in advance of surgery, failing which consent given before a medical procedure may be rendered void. This raises an important question for families; what if parents of children operated on by Mr Weerasena had known that there were concerns over his fitness to practice? If any lack of competence or expertise on his part has affected the outcomes for his patients this, arguably, might have affected their understanding of the risks to which they were agreeing to expose their children. It may be that Mr Weerasena lacked adequate support from his surgical and medical colleagues, in which case this would represent a 'corporate failure' on the part of the Trust. From the perspective of the Duty of Candour this kind of information, relating to a surgeon's experience and possibly the resources and support available at the unit, should certainly form part of a hospital's duty to give a full explanation to families when a patient has suffered harm.

Laurence Vick and his team represent families of children who died or were harmed following cardiac surgery at Leeds General Infirmary and Bristol Children's Hospital. He was heavily involved in the Bristol heart surgery litigation following the 2001 Kennedy Report, having been joint lead solicitor to the 300 families involved in the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry. He is cited in the independent directory the Legal 500 as 'the go-to lawyer for complex adult and child cardiac cases.