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Urologist cleared of manslaughter

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 29 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1166
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    A urologist accused of the manslaughter of an elderly patient who died during a nephrectomy was cleared this week after the judge presiding over the trial ruled that there was no case to answer.

    The recorder of Leeds, Judge Norman Jones QC, accepted a submission from defence counsel Robert Smith QC that Hurais Syed, 48, should be discharged at the end of the four week prosecution case.

    After three days of legal argument the judge ruled at Leeds Crown Court that the prosecution had failed to establish that Mr Syed had breached his duty of care to the patient, 78 year old Gladys Allen. Mrs Allen died at Dewsbury District Hospital, West Yorkshire, after an operation to remove a cancerous kidney on 28 January 2000.

    The prosecution claimed that she had bled to death because of gross negligence on the part of Mr Syed, of Acton, west London, who should never have operated on a patient in Mrs Allen's condition.

    The judge said: “The prosecution have failed to overcome the first hurdle, namely that there was a breach of the duty of care.” He said that surgeons giving evidence for the prosecution had acknowledged that other competent surgeons would have undertaken the operation in certain circumstances. There was also conflicting evidence about the amount of blood Mrs Allen had lost during the operation.

    Mr Syed's solicitor, Richard Reed, said: “He wishes to express his regret for the trauma Gladys Allen's family have endured, including listening to the case over the last four weeks. One of his real concerns is that cases such as this may lead other surgeons to practise defensive medicine in the future, in that they may hesitate to operate in similar circumstances where fine judgments apply.”

    Mr Reed said that the patient's life expectancy was around 12 weeks. Mr Syed had decided to undertake palliative surgery “to debulk the tumour and buy her a little more time.”

    Mr Reed added: “I think increasingly if the crown is going to take cases such as this, the fear is that surgeons will practise defensive medicine. This was a matter of judgment.”

    Mr Syed still faces charges of serious professional misconduct before the General Medical Council. In the meantime the GMC's interim orders committee has imposed conditions on his practice, requiring him to practise in supervised posts only, with any surgical procedures supervised by a consultant surgeon, and barring him from undertaking nephrectomies. The interim order is scheduled for review on 30 May.

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