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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 18:35 GMT
Surgeon told to use dessert spoon
surgery generic
Godfrey Charnley said he was given a metal spoon to carry out hip ops

An NHS consultant was asked to use a dessert spoon instead of a proper surgical instrument during hip replacement operations, a tribunal has heard.

Godfrey Charnley, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, is claiming unfair constructive dismissal after leaving Derriford Hospital in Plymouth last year in disgust at the way it was run.

Mr Charnley, who now works at a hospital near his home in Coggeshall, Essex, told the tribunal in Exeter he was bullied to fiddle waiting lists so that they could be brought within government targets.

And he claimed doctors who spoke out about the bullying faced being suspended.

Mr Charnley said he was so disgusted by the failure of his bosses to supply the proper equipment that he threw the spoon on the operating theatre floor.

His anger and embarrassment were compounded by the fact the operation was being watched by a leading expert on hip replacements from a Swedish University.

He later used 150 of his own money to buy the correct implement.

Poking fun

The tribunal heard that nurses made fun of the incident and arrived for an operation a few days later with plastic spoons taped to their surgical masks.

Mr Charnley told the tribunal: "When we prepare the hip for a re-fixing we should use a sharp spoon with the proper CE mark. What I was offered at Derriford was a dessert spoon.

"If shards of bone had got into the interface of the hip replacement it could cause the operation to fail within weeks or months and it would have to be redone at huge cost in pain to the patient and in time and money to the NHS.

"Our department spent time drawing up lists of the equipment we needed but on several occasions I was offered the dessert spoon and rejected it."

Secret interviews

Dr Rhona Macdonald, medical editor of the British Medical Journal, giving evidence on behalf of Mr Charnley, said she had spent two months secretly interviewing staff at the end of 2001.

She spoke to 50 doctors and senior nurses and was so worried about what she found that she reported it to the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI).

Former GP Dr Macdonald said: "Staff were so driven by waiting list targets they did not have time for anything else, like quality.

"If anyone spoke to the local press or internally it seemed to be the case, on at least four occasions, that people were summonsed without knowing why, and faced at least three members of management.

"They were then told they had to go on gardening leave which was a euphemism for suspension, in all cases for weeks or months, before they knew what they were accused of.

"In most cases it was something to do with the quality of their work."

She said that she did not speak to management because staff "were terrified about would happen if management fund out".

No climate of fear

Derriford Hospital denies there was a culture of fear among staff.

Mr Julian Hoskings, representing the Plymouth NHS Trust, told the tribunal that a new management team had taken over shortly before Dr McDonald's visit in 2001 and that since then no-one had been sent on gardening leave.

Mr Hoskings said the CHI had praised the hospital for improving communications with staff and equality issues.

The tribunal continues.





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The BBC's Jon Kay
"It was apparently a sterilised spoon"



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