MAEBASHI - Gunma University Hospital's investigation into a series of deaths of patients following liver surgery by one of its doctors was insufficient, lawyers for bereaved family members said Friday, stressing a criminal charge against the operating surgeon is in the offing.
At a press conference held in Maebashi, the group of lawyers said the hospital did not conduct a thorough investigation into the director at its second surgical department and the surgeon in question, and thus failed to uncover the whole picture of how and why the fatal operations were allowed to happen.
Demanding a thorough probe, the lawyers said the surgeon "repeatedly engaged in grave and malicious medical malpractice," saying they were considering lodging a criminal complaint against the surgeon.
The group of lawyers was set up by eight legal advisers specialising in medical matters and helping those who fall victim to medical malpractice.
The bereaved family members of the patients who died following laparoscopic and open abdominal operations at the hospital have consulted the lawyers.
Upon receiving formal requests to examine the cases of two patients, the lawyers investigated them in co-operation with a gastroenterological doctor knowledgeable about laparoscopic surgery at a university hospital in Tokyo.
Based on the expert's assessment, the group of lawyers raised several questions over the investigative report compiled by the hospital, saying the hearings with the surgeon and the department's director were insufficient.
The lawyers also said several descriptions quoted in the hospital's report differed from those in the actual medical records kept by the surgeon, making the credibility of the entire investigation dubious.
Regarding the skills of the operating surgeon, the lawyers quoted the specialist, who analysed the videos recording the operations, saying, "His poor handling of the instruments shows his skills were amateurish."
Even though the hospital stressed that "a problem was pointed out" by its investigation, the lawyers said the problem remained unclear to them, giving them the impression that the probe was inadequate.
They said the surgeon failed to conduct necessary examinations of the patients' liver functions prior to surgery or give them detailed explanations, and he kept poor medical records. The lawyers pointed out the "extremely high illegality" of his acts as they likely violated the Medical Practitioners Law and others.
Regarding the 10 patients who died after having open abdominal operations, the hospital announced at a press conference last week that one of them was posthumously confirmed not to have developed cancer, but the surgeon did not tell the patient's family about this and entered false disease information on the patient's death certificate.
In addition to lodging a criminal complaint against the surgeon, the lawyers will consider demanding the administrative punishment of having his medical license revoked.
The group of lawyers also submitted the contents of the press conference in writing to the hospital.
"We can't say anything [about the contents yet] as we haven't closely examined them," said an official of the hospital's administration division.