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Surgeon claims Bath's RUH 'covered up' patient's blinding

A surgeon sacked by a hospital after raising safety concerns has accused the trust of a cover-up after a patient was partially blinded during an operation.

Juanita Graham, 41, lost the sight in her left eye during an operation at Bath's Royal United Hospital (RUH) in 2019 and is now suing the trust. 

Serryth Colbert said he was put down as the lead author on an investigation by the hospital into the incident but said that the investigation into the operation was "deeply flawed" and he "did not write a word" of the report.

The surgeon, who specialises in the head, neck, face and jaw, has made several serious allegations about patient safety at the RUH, and believes these claims led to him being regarded as a troublemaker and dismissed in October 2023. 

Mrs Graham, from Trowbridge, says she is still traumatised by the operation on her eye and added: "I remember coming round, seeing the time and what felt like a gush, and I couldn't see. The next time I remember waking up again, I thought it was my partner, but it was a surgeon and he was crying. I said, 'what's gone wrong?'

"What was meant to be a simple operation has now left me with scarring and permanent damage to my optic nerve and I won't be able to see again."

Mrs Graham was sedated for another operation to find out what had happened but said that when she woke up there was an immediate sense something was not right.

She added: "I remember waking up and one of the nurses whispered in my ear when I came out. She said to me 'you are going to get through this and get big compensation'. Even the students seemed nervous. Everything in my notes was messed up, and every time I asked a question no-one seemed to know what happened."

After the operation, a Root Cause Analyses (RCA) report produced by the trust said the hospital was not to blame, although it did say the risks could have been explained more clearly to Mrs Graham. 

Mr Colbert, 48, who is identified as the lead investigator in the Root Cause Analysis Investigation, said his involvement in the report was only when he was called on the phone by a nurse, who he said did the RCA, to explain what the operation involved.

He said: "To my amazement I have been put down here as the lead author on this. That is not correct. I did not write a word of this. The conclusion is the root cause of the complication was down to a bit of paperwork which could have been performed a bit better.  The root cause was not down to paperwork. It was all covered up. That was indefensible." 

The RUH has declined to comment on Mr Colbert's accusations of a cover-up, although it has recently told Mrs Graham that it will reopen her complaint. 

Mr Colbert, as well as several other surgeons, believes Mrs Graham's procedure was not done properly. 

Mrs Graham said: "It's changed my life completely, from my balancing, walking into doors, not judging space. I still have pain to this day, even to move the eye. The eye is not closing, and I get a lot of infections. My life has now changed."

She has also approached the Royal College of Surgeons which has been asked by the trust to investigate safety concerns raised by Mr Colbert as she wants her case looked at in detail. 

Mr Colbert believes that his speaking out about his various concerns, including about Mrs Graham's surgery, led to him being investigated by the RUH trust. After a long suspension, he was sacked last year for allegedly bullying staff. 

The trust had previously said it has "never dismissed anybody for raising concerns and never will."

It added that Mr Colbert's dismissal related to "significant concerns about bullying" raised by several staff and its investigation into his conduct by an independent expert was "thorough" and "robust."

He is suing the trust for loss of earnings.

The RUH has declined to comment on Juanita Graham’s case but in a statement said that it supports anyone "to raise concerns so they can be investigated and dealt with fairly."