Lucrative award for author of review which wrongly blamed surgeons for 20 deaths

The author of an NHS review that a coroner found had wrongly blamed two surgeons for the deaths of dozens of patients used it to win an award worth almost £300,000.

In his submission to the National Clinical Excellence Award, Michael Lewis highlighted the report of the NHS Improvement Panel that he had led.

In 2019, Mr Lewis, himself a cardiac surgeon, was already in receipt of a bronze award worth around £35,800 when he received a Silver National Clinical Excellence Award worth around £47,110 per year for five years.

The award is pensionable, meaning the NHS adds an additional 20.8 per cent of the value into the pension pot of the recipient, bringing the total value of the award to £287,395.

But critics have pointed out that a senior coroner has since ruled that Mr Lewis’s review into mortality rates at one of Britain’s largest teaching hospitals was wrong to conclude that Professor Marjan Jahangiri and Dr Justin Nowell were to blame for the death of patients.

In 20 inquests held so far into 67 deaths examined by his review, Professor Fiona Wilcox, a senior coroner, found that no blame was to be attached to the surgeons and their clinical team at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in south London.

Supporters of the surgeons are also angry that Mr Lewis gave Prof Wilcox the impression that he and his colleagues on the independent panel of medical and surgical experts had received no benefit in return, despite his report being used as part of an application for a financial award.

On his application, Mr Lewis stated prominently that he had been chairman of the NHS Improvements (NHSI) review panel – known as the Lewis report – appointed to investigate cardiothoracic surgery results at St George’s.

During one exchange at the inquest into the death of Arthur Stecka, Mr Lewis, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Royal Sussex County Hospital, told Prof Wilcox: “I want to say that I did not get paid for any of this and the review. And the panel also did it for free. They gave 100 hours for free. It was not to further their career.”

The reputation of the surgeons was left in tatters when the Lewis report was published in March 2020. The report concluded that 67 out of 202 patient deaths were “avoidable” and that there had been significant failings in their care. St George’s Trust and NHSI jointly referred the 67 cases to HM Coroner, triggering a series of inquests.

St George’s suspended Prof Jahangiri and Dr Nowell, pictured below, and paid hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees over claims of malpractice and mistakes.

It is understood the trust has agreed to pay millions of pounds in damages to relatives of the dead. But the coroner has since ruled in 20 of the cases that patients were treated appropriately and that no blame was to be attached to Prof Jahangiri and Dr Nowell.

Prof Wilcox overturned the review’s findings at Westminster Coroner’s Court. She said: “I find no failings of care. I find no criticism of the care delivered by the clinical team. The failings identified in the review have once again not been found after consideration of the evidence. I cannot find failings that contributed to the death … the care given by the staff of St George’s was excellent and beyond criticism.”

A spokesperson for the NHS in London said: “It is inaccurate to suggest the conduct of any review panellist was inappropriate. The methodology and findings of the independent mortality review into the cardiac services at St George’s University Hospital were appropriate, conducted by an independent expert panel with specific experience in the area of cardiac services and undertaken in the interests of patient safety and learning.

“The review was not undertaken to determine the cause of death in individual cases or attribute blame to individual clinicians.”

NHS London said neither Mr Lewis nor the rest of the panel had been paid for their work on the review and that this formed only a part of Mr Lewis’s submission for a silver clinical excellence award.

Mr Lewis was approached for comment.

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