Skilled yet arrogant, he saved many lives but broke an essential trust
THE prosecution of surgeon Simon Bramhall was described as unique.
It is believed to be the first time a doctor has faced criminal charges in relation to an assault carried out while the patient was undergoing surgery.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said he used a medical instrument called an argon beam coagulator – which seals bleeding blood vessels by directing a beam of electricity on to the area – to inscribe two patients’ livers as they were under general anaesthetic.
He even boasted to a nurse who witnessed one of the assaults at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital: “This is what I do.”
Frank Ferguson, head of special crime at the CPS, said: “As far as we know it’s a unique case in terms of the facts and demonstrates really the vulnerability of patients and the degree of trust they place in their surgeons when they are having an operation and the importance that that trust is protected and respected by doctors. I’ve never heard of anything like this before. It’s applying the current law to a unique set of circumstances, so in that sense it’s a precedent because we’ve never come across a situation where a battery has taken place in these circumstances but the criminal law applies to everyone.”
Mr Ferguson said Bramhall was a “very respected” surgeon to whom many patients owed their lives. But asked about the doctor’s motive, he said: “I can’t speak in terms of why he did that. Clearly he did not anticipate that it would be seen, I would suggest, but there was further surgery and he may not have understood how long it was likely to last.
“He accepted what he was doing was arrogant.”
Mr Ferguson said in one of the cases, the victim had suffered psychological harm.
“There was a very profound impact on that person in terms of distress caused by what happened, the psychological impact,” Mr Ferguson said.
“There was some physical harm to the liver, although that’s minor in terms of cell damage but it would be akin to a minor external burn. There is no greater trust than the trust which a patient places in a surgeon when they are having an operation.
“And no greater vulnerability than that of a patient who’s under general anaesthetic and the breach of that trust and the abuse of that power were aggravating features that led us to conclude it was the right thing to do to take this case forward.”
Mr Ferguson said he did not anticipate any further charges and there was no evidence Bramhall’s colleagues covered up his actions. He resigned from the hospital in 2014.
Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital issued a statement yesterday saying: “The Trust is clear that Mr Bramhall made a mistake and this has been dealt with via the appropriate authorities, including the Trust as his then employer.
“We can reassure his patients that there was no impact whatsoever on the quality of his clinical outcomes.”
The General Medical Council said last year that Bramhall’s conduct risked bringing his profession into disrepute and issued a warning to him but did not think it warranted further punishment.