A major hospital trust at the centre of a police investigation allowed significant numbers of unregistered consultants to operate on patients, it has been claimed.
At least 105 cases of medical negligence and allegations of a cover-up at Royal Sussex University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are currently being probed.
The Telegraph has learnt that, as part of the investigation, officers are considering allegations that numerous surgeons in the troubled general surgery department in Brighton held the title of consultant without having qualified for the specialist register.
It can also be revealed that a weekly clinical safety meeting was scrapped in favour of a monthly meeting shortly before the period that saw many of the mishaps currently under review.
In order to qualify for the register, aspiring senior doctors must undergo a lengthy training under different mentors and pass multiple specialist exams.
Under NHS rules, only those who are on the register may take up any fixed-term, honorary or substantive consultant post in the NHS, subject to a few exceptions.
However, foundation trusts are not bound by this rule, in recognition of their greater legal autonomy compared to traditional hospitals.
Sources have claimed that, at its worst point, the proportion of unregistered consultant surgeons at the Royal Sussex County Hospital exceeded 40 per cent, although the trust is understood to dispute this figure.
There is currently a national shortage of consultants and concerns have begun to emerge from the medical establishment in recent years about a growing use of non-registered consultants to deal with rising patient demand.
A spokesman for the trust said: “Appointing experienced doctors not on the specialist register to consultant positions is common practice in the NHS, provided they can demonstrate the required training and expertise in their field.”
However, a source told The Telegraph: “The Royal Sussex County Hospital is a major trauma centre and supposed to be a teaching hospital.
“To claim it’s acceptable to have a high number of unregistered surgeons at a centre like this is entirely wrong and dangerous.”
A recently published review by the Royal College of Surgeons criticised “bullying” and a “culture of fear” at the trust.
Meanwhile, a damning Care Quality Commission report found a “wide disconnect in the relationship between staff and senior leaders”.
Governance drastically reduced
The Telegraph can disclose that in 2019 there was a major shake-up of clinical governance in general surgery which drastically reduced the frequency of morbidity and mortality meetings, where deaths and complications were discussed in order to learn lessons.
For several years up until that point, the reviews had taken place weekly on a Friday afternoon.
However, at a meeting of the department in the summer of 2019, new leadership scrapped the weekly meetings, with staff allegedly told their time could be put to better use.
The trust said the meetings became monthly, and that this was in line with Royal College of Surgeons guidelines.
The guidelines state that: “A frequency of one meeting each month is the most common arrangement.”
However, the guidelines add: “In large, busy units and for specialties in which complications are more prevalent it may be appropriate to meet more than once a month.”
Mr Peter Duffy, a consultant neurosurgeon who is now campaigning for better protection for whistleblowers in the NHS, said the decision to reduce the frequency of morbidity and mortality meetings “rings serious alarm bells”.
“If senior clinicians came to the conclusion that they needed weekly meetings and they were overruled, that raises serious alarm bells.
“At best it suggests a dysfunctional relationship there. Without these meetings, deaths can sometimes be brushed under the carpet.
“There are a range of clinical governance benefits.”
It is understood that at the 2019 meeting senior surgeons were also told that their offices would be moved away from the main department, a significant walk away.
Dr George Findlay, the trust chief executive, has promised improvements in the wake of the CQC report.
He previously served as deputy under Dame Mariane Griffiths, a close ally of former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who retired in 2022.
At least two Employment Tribunals of former senior doctors at the trust are expected to go ahead in the coming weeks.
A spokesman said: “In 2019, a new Surgery leadership team changed case reviews to monthly which is in line with the Royal College of Surgeons guidance on frequency of M&M meetings.”
He added: “All surgeons employed by the Trust are licensed to practise by the General Medical Council.”
British house prices fell by 1.4 per cent on an annual basis in December, after a revised 2.3 per cent decrease in November.
London was the region with the biggest annual decrease with prices in the capital falling by 4.8 per cent, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Wednesday.
“Our initial estimate of UK house prices shows another annual fall in December, however the pace of decrease has slowed since the previous month,” said Aimee North, head of housing market indices at the ONS.
Wednesday’s data contrasted with some other measures of Britain’s housing market which showed house prices rose in January as demand picked up after mortgage rates fell.
Other reports on the data indicated UK house prices rose for the first time in four months at the end of last year.
The average price of a home rose to £284,691 (€333,813) in December, a 0.1 per cent rise compared to the previous month.
The figures suggest the housing market may be past the worst after a marked cooling in mortgage rates in recent months. More forward-looking industry data from lenders Halifax and Nationwide Building Society have already pointed to prices rebounding.
The ONS said prices fell 1.4 per cent in the 12 months to December, with the market defying predictions of a slump triggered by 14 back-to-back interest-rate rises by the Bank of England. It was still the worst year for the property market since 2008 when the financial crisis triggered a 15 per cent decline.
“December saw demand pick up as mortgage rates decreased and 2024 has started with a tsunami of enthusiasm and enquiries from potential homebuyers,” said Stephen Perkins, managing director at broker Yellow Brick Mortgages.
“Though this data shows prices are down on an annual basis, it paints a picture of how the market was several months previously, and the picture now is really quite different.” – Reuters, Bloomberg
The average cost of a home has fallen at its fastest rate for more than 12 years, with UK property values sitting typically £6,000 lower in November 2023 than a year earlier, according to official figures.
House prices fell by 2.1% over the 12 months to November 2023 to reach £285,000 on average, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Aimee North, head of housing market indices at the ONS, said: “The annual fall in house prices continues to accelerate, with the average cost of a home falling at its fastest rate for over 12 years.
“Meanwhile annual rent increases remain at record levels across the country.”
House prices typically fell across the year in England and Wales, but increased in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Average house prices over the 12 months to November 2023 decreased in England to £302,000 (a 2.9% drop) and fell in Wales to £213,000 (down 2.4%).
The typical property value increased in Scotland to £194,000 (a 2.2% annual rise).
Average house prices increased by 2.1% annually in Northern Ireland to £180,000.
Within England, the North East recorded the smallest decrease in average house prices in the 12 months to November 2023 (falling by 0.4%), while London saw the biggest drop in average house prices (down by 6.0%).
The figures were released as the ONS recorded a surprise increase in inflation.
The rate of Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation accelerated to 4% in December, from 3.9% in November, but many economists had expected the rate to edge lower.
There are also concerns over the impact of the Red Sea shipping attacks on inflation, as it threatens to push up the cost of oil, gas and goods being imported to the UK.
Mortgage rates have been falling in recent weeks, with many lenders starting the new year by chopping rates. But some housing market experts said the acceleration in inflation could mean lenders are more cautious, as expectations of a Bank of England base rate cut are pushed back.
Frances McDonald, director of research at property agents Savills, said: “Today’s ONS house price index for November indicates that stretched mortgage affordability continued to place downward pressure on house prices in the final weeks of 2023.
“Looking ahead, there are encouraging signs that buyers are gaining confidence as mortgage rates fall, though today’s surprise inflation figures may push out expectations of a Bank of England base rate cut.”
Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: “The downwards rate war continues to pick up momentum although there is no guarantee that mortgage rates will keep tumbling. There are bound to be blips as it is still quite volatile out there, as today’s inflation figures suggest.
“Swap rates, which underpin the pricing of fixed-rate mortgages, have been falling over the past month but ticked up today on the back of the inflation data.”
He added: “While the rate trajectory is on the whole downwards, borrowers need to be mindful that if they like the look of a rate it might not be around for long.”
Matt Smith, Rightmove’s mortgage expert, said: “Average (mortgage) rates had been falling pretty sharply, but this is likely this to slow as lenders take a more cautious approach over the next few weeks. The big picture is still positive for mortgage rates, with rates more stable and attractive for movers than a year ago.”
Nick Leeming, chairman of estate agent Jackson-Stops, said: “The figures published today suggest a frosty end to the year, with buyers putting their searches on hold in order to see how mortgage rates would react as inflation fell once again. 2023 was defined by mortgage affordability pressures and a shift from immense competition, towards a smaller, more committed buyer pool.”
Ross McMillan, owner at Glasgow-based Blue Fish Mortgage Solutions, told website Newspage: “Sentiment reigns supreme in the housing market, and in Scotland it’s very positive at present.
“Whilst a modest uptick in inflation may create a degree of uncertainty, it’s crucial to recognise that buyer enthusiasm and activity have experienced a noticeable revival in the opening weeks of 2024.”
Andrew Montlake, managing director at UK-wide broker Coreco, told Newspage: “Those in the mortgage market will be watching swap rates closely and it could mean a slight pause to the new year rate wars we have seen, but competition between lenders is unlikely to wane.”
Simon Gerrard, managing director of London-based Martyn Gerrard estate agents, said: “On the ground, it’s clear the market has turned a corner. We’ve seen a 20% increase in people registering to buy a home compared to this time last year.”
The ONS also said private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 6.2% in the 12 months to December 2023.
This was unchanged from the annual percentage change in the 12 months to November 2023, and the joint-highest annual percentage change since the UK records started in January 2016.
Rents in Scotland increased by 6.3% in the 12 months to December 2023 – the highest annual rate since the Scotland records started in January 2012.
In England, private rental prices increased by 6.1% in the year to December 2023, which was unchanged from the annual percentage change in November.
When London is excluded from the England figures, private rental prices increased by 5.7% in the 12 months to December 2023. The ONS said the figures are the joint-highest annual percentage changes since the records started in January 2006.
Private rental prices in London increased by 6.8% in the year to December 2023, down slightly from a record-high rise of 6.9% in the 12 months to November 2023.
Rents in Wales rose by 7.1% in the year to December 2023, edging down from a record high increase of 7.3% in the 12 months to November 2023.
Private rental prices in Northern Ireland increased by 9.3% in the 12 months to October 2023.
The annual rate for Northern Ireland has generally slowed since a recent peak of 10.0% in the 12 months to March 2023. Data for Northern Ireland lags behind the rest of the UK, the report said.
There’s nowhere quite like Grantley Hall. Not in its native Yorkshire, not in the north of England, not anywhere in the whole of the UK for that matter.
This is an ongoing project of such lavishness that apparently house prices in the area have risen by 20 per cent.
And it’s all due to Valeria Sykes who, following her divorce from the billionaire and Brexit-backer Paul Sykes, has spent an unconfirmed £100 million on saving this 17th-century mansion and turning it into a glitzy and glamorous resort hotel a few miles from Ripon.
Arriving after dark is a thrill, the driveway lit up, with the River Skell flowing beside it.
Handsome young men in tweed waistcoats greet us outside the front door — one takes the luggage (and it’s important to turn up with lots of luggage here), while another parks our car.
Then it’s a seat in the drawing room and a glass of champagne during check-in before being escorted to one of only 47 rooms (with more than 400 staff).
There are five restaurants, including Shaun Rankin’s Michelin-star outlet; a nightclub; casino; the swankiest of gyms (44 running machines, including one that’s underwater); cryotherapy chamber, Formula 1 car simulator; lifestyle consultant; indoor/outdoor pool in the Three Graces spa; a ‘snow room’; gift shop; Japanese garden and so on.
At times, it feels like Dubai. At others, it’s Claridge’s or The Dorchester — with prices to match.
Footballers and their wives come here to splash the cash, but most of the guests we meet are, like Ms Sykes, Yorkshire born and bred — and proud to have such a statement hotel in the county.
We eat in the Pan-Asian restaurant, EightyEight, in the basement of a separate building where there’s also a wedding reception area. This seems to be the brash part of the resort. Service is slow but apologies come thick and fast.
Generally, there’s quality at every turn — which makes me wonder why on earth so many paintings are fake copies of Old Masters in tinny frames. And there’s piped music almost everywhere.
Even in low season, you won’t get a room for less than £500 a night but, frankly, anyone who quibbles at the cost probably shouldn’t be here in the first place.