Published by BBC NEWS - 27th March 2024
  • Published
Eva Tennent, 10, is being treated at the Edinburgh Royal Hospital for Children and Young PeopleImage source, Jill Lockhart

A mum has been told her ten-year-old daughter’s spinal condition is now inoperable after having planned surgery cancelled seven times since September.

The curvature of Eva Tennent’s spine is now so severe that her mum Jill Lockhart fears she will not survive.

Her family said three of her operations at Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital were postponed due to staff shortages.

It comes as BBC News learned that one of Scotland’s three paediatric spinal surgeons has been suspended.

Patients and families under the care of surgeon Chris Adams, who was treating Eva, were told he would no longer be treating them last week – but were not told why by NHS officials.

The suspension came a day after Mr Adams met with a BBC journalist and accompanied him on a visit to Eva in hospital, which had been requested by her parents.

Shaye Armour, 13, was also under Mr Adams’ care ahead of planned spinal surgery in Edinburgh later this year but the teenager was moved to a hospital in Newcastle on Tuesday for a new surgical assessment.

BBC News is aware of another case where spinal surgery for a child planned with Mr Adams was postponed at the last minute.

NHS Lothian said it does not comment on individual members of staff.

Dr Tracey Gillies, the board’s medical director, apologised to patients and families affected by rescheduling operations and said the well documented wider pressures on the NHS was partly to blame.

Last year, a BBC Disclosure investigation into Scotland’s NHS revealed claims by Mr Adams that nursing shortages at the Edinburgh Royal Hospital for Children and Young People (RHCYP) were contributing to some children waiting up to three times longer than pre-pandemic for spinal surgery.

Mr Adams and other staff members raised concerns within NHS Lothian about the number of operations being cancelled due to staffing shortages.

The problem of bed and staff shortages is impacting all areas of Scotland’s NHS with The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warning that the number of children waiting for some services had more than doubled in the past 11 years.

‘They are telling me it’s too late’

Eva suffers from Rett syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects brain development, and has advanced scoliosis that causes her spine to twist and curve to the side.

The curvature of her spine was 60.89 degrees in May, 2022, went up to 107.9 degrees last year and is now at 110 degrees, according to Jill.

Her family say they’ve been told her condition means it is now inoperable.

X-rays of Eva's spine show the curvature has worsened without the operation

Image source, Jill Lockhart

Jill told BBC News that Eva had been booked for surgery seven times since September last year, but each time it has been cancelled.

“She was deemed operable in September, October and November – and they were only cancelled because of bed and nurse shortages,” she said.

“They have left it so long, and now they are saying it’s too late. It feels like my daughter’s chances of survival have been sacrificed.”

Jill said the most recent surgery cancellations were down to Eva’s deteriorating respiratory health, which she believes is a result of the delay in operating and the curvature of the ten-year-old’s spine putting increased pressure on her internal organs.

Eva was due to undergo surgery on 28 March but this operation has also been cancelled.

“We were told last week that the operation could go ahead,” Jill added.

“Now, we’re being told she’s inoperable and I can’t get a proper explanation from the hospital why this situation has changed so quickly.

“If Eva had this operation, she could live for another 15 to 30 years with her condition. Without it, she may die.”

‘They have just left him in limbo’

Chris and Shaye

Image source, Nicole Armour

Shaye Armour, from Greenock, has congenital kyphosis scoliosis, a condition which causes his spine to bend forward.

The 13-year-old was being treated at Edinburgh’s RHCYP under the care of Mr Adams as part of a series of planned spinal operations this year.

His mum Nicole said she was told by NHS Lothian that Mr Adams, who had been Shaye’s surgeon for nearly a decade, was no longer available to treat her son but she was not able to find out why from the senior official she spoke to.

She said: “I asked was it personal reasons and he avoided the question. I asked has he been suspended, has he been sacked?

“They said he wasn’t sacked, so I said has he been suspended then and the answer was no comment which I found pretty weird because Shaye was in the middle of getting his surgeries done.”

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“I’m very upset and angry that they have done this to Shaye. They started something and just stopped mid way through, they have just left him in limbo. He’s left in the unknown, he has all these questions but has no answers.

“If they delay things more or if they make the slightest mistake Shaye will end up paralysed from the neck down.”

Nicole said Shaye “was devastated” by the news as he was very close to Mr Adams, who she described as a “great man”.

‘Significant pressures’

Dr Gillies, the medical director of NHS Lothian, said: “We do not comment on individual members of staff.

“If a clinician was not to be at work for any reason, patients and their families would be told if it impacted on their care and their case would be reassigned to another surgeon as soon as possible – particularly if it was time sensitive.

“In cases of a specialist service, it can often be necessary to link in with the closest centre to ensure the patient is care for appropriately.”

She added: “We do know that rescheduling elective procedures can be very upsetting for our patients and their families. We apologise sincerely to those who have been affected, especially those who have been rescheduled a number of times.

“We have been open and honest about the significant pressures being experienced across our entire healthcare system and their negative impact on elective procedures and waiting times.”

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