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Surgery warning ignored 18 months before Graham Coker's death at Maidstone Hospital

The death of a 59-year-old man could have potentially been avoided if hospital bosses investigated a controversial type of surgery when they were first warned of concerns some 18 months previously, an inquest has heard.

Graham Coker died on December 19, 2012, after undergoing upper gastro-intestinal (GI) surgery at Maidstone Hospital - a specialist procedure that was meant to be a minimally invasive way of dealing with cancer.

Following his death, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, ordered a review to be published by the independent Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) in October 2013.

Picture: Matthew Reading Maidstone Hospital Laparascopic surgery thearte. Mr. Amir Nisar operating on patient Jennifer Jeffrey using Laparascopic surgery. (1449848)
Picture: Matthew Reading Maidstone Hospital Laparascopic surgery thearte. Mr. Amir Nisar operating on patient Jennifer Jeffrey using Laparascopic surgery. (1449848)

The damning report concluded that surgeons were not providing a safe service to patients and the trust swiftly cancelled all running of the service.

However, the surgeons subsequently argued that the report was not fair as they were not given the opportunity to comment on it and dispute some of the RCS' findings before it was published, the inquest at Archbishop's Palace heard.

The court was also told hospital bosses received an anonymous letter - initially addressed to the General Medical Council - in 2011, reporting "dangerous and unethical practices" in surgery, and specifically concerns about the consultant upper GI surgeons.

Giving evidence, the trust's medical director between 2010 and 2017, Paul Sigston, said there had been discussions at executive level about the letter - within which some claims were dismissed as inaccurate.

But when asked if the lack of action contributed to Mr Coker's death, he admitted in hindsight he wished a formal investigation has been launched.

Maidstone Hospital exterior (1432736)
Maidstone Hospital exterior (1432736)

"I am making assumptions that [the RSC] would have made the same conclusion if they came two years earlier," Dr Sigston said.

"If things were like that then, I can't see why they would come to another conclusion."

The inquest into Mr Coker's death was adjourned on Monday for a date yet to be set.

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