A disgraced NHS surgeon who caused infections which led to the deaths of FIVE patients when he “constantly changed his gloves mid-operation” has been allowed back to work, it emerged today.
John Chen Lui Lu infected his tragic patients with the deadly staphylococcus epidermidis bug during heart surgery between December 2008 and July 2010.
Dennis Mills, 82, Michael Smithers, 67, Bernard Heald, 83, Alan Daniels, 73 and Albert Rigley, 63, all from Nottinghamshire, died as a result of contracting the bacteria.
An inquest in 2010 heard Mr Lu had a habit of changing his gloves in the middle of surgery and of 28 heart patients who had valves inserted by him – 11 fell ill.
The outbreak sparked a major health scare, with more than 100 patients who had undergone heart surgery at Nottingham City Hospital having to be recalled for tests.
At the time Nottingham coroner Dr Nigel Chapman slammed Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust for not recognising the infection quickly enough.
Buy yesterday it emerged the surgeon may be allowed back in the operating theatre after his employment continued despite his fatal mistakes.
A spokesman for the NHS Trust confirmed: “Following our investigation, we commissioned an independent review by one of the country’s eminent endocarditis experts to consider all of the evidence associated with this case and to advise on the clinical risk of the surgeon’s return to operating.
“This report was reviewed by two further authoritative expert microbiologists.
“A re-entry programme is being carefully developed and has recently been shared with the surgeon and his advisers for consideration.
“This is standard practice when a surgeon returns to operating after a prolonged absence. We have involved patients in this process.
“The surgeon continues to work clinically at our hospital, doing post-operative and outpatient work.
“We will keep our community and patients informed regarding the outcome of our discussions.”
The inquest heard suspicions were first raised about an outbreak in May 2009 year when doctors became aware of two cases of endocarditi.
But after failing to pass on the information to an infection control doctor it was a further two months before a link was made to Mr Lu.
The connection was finally noticed by microbiologist Tim Boswell and Mr Lu was stopped from operating.
Yesterday Dr Boswell said: “It was a busy time, and I can say that these types of things are very rare.
“Whether or not he comes back to performing operations is still in discussion.”
The bug is carried on the skin and is normally harmless, unless it attaches to a foreign body, such as an artificial heart valve.
Lawyers representing the families of the five men who died claimed it was “glaringly obvious” that Mr Lu’s habit of changing his surgical gloves mid-operation was responsible for passing on the bacteria.
But the surgeon and NHS managers said this was “not established” despite a coroner ruling he was undoubtedly the cause of the infection.
THE FIVE DEATHS:
Dennis Mills, 82, of Wilford, Notts. Mr Mills was the patient whose death, the inquest heard, could have been avoided. He was the 24th patient to have heart valve surgery by Mr Lu and died from the bug, on December 5, 2009.
Michael Smithers, 67, of Newark, Notts., had surgery on December 17, 2008, and died on January 26, 2009.
Bernard Heald, 83, of Mansfield, Notts., had heart valve replacement surgery on January 21, 2009 and was later found with sepsis and the bug in his blood.
Alan Daniels, 73, of Lowdham, Notts., had the operation on March 3 and died on August 28. The main cause of death was damage to his bowel, but damage to his heart had been noted.
Albert Rigley, 63, of Newthorpe, Notts., died on October 6. He was admitted on July 13 suffering from shivering, sweating and lethargy. This was the day the outbreak of the bug was announced.