SERIOUS failings at Hinchingbrooke Hospital led to the deaths of at least two bowel surgery patients and a third emerging from surgery with a medical instrument still inside them.

A report by the Royal College of Surgeons, which was released to The Hunts Post on Monday, followed an investigation conducted last autumn at the request of South and West Cambridgeshire coroners.

It criticises the level of care in the colorectal department of the hospital and states patient safety was at risk.

It blames "dysfunction in the surgical team" and a breakdown in its relationship with medical, clinical and managerial staff for the failures which resulted in the deaths of 51-year-old Somersham woman Jayne Smith in September 2010 and Patricia Spooner, 67, of Huntingdon, a month later.

The report also referred to an incident in which one patient emerged from surgery with an instrument still inside them, that later had to be removed.

A trust spokesman said: "A thorough investigation was undertaken by the trust, resulting in action plans that have now been implemented, including a review of staff training, audits of instrument tracking paperwork and revised procedures."

In an exclusive interview with The Hunts Post, hospital bosses apologised for the failings and promised those mistakes would never be made again.

Major bowel surgery, which was moved to Addenbrooke's, now is performed at Peterborough and Stamford NHS Foundation Trust. An exact date for its return to Hinchingbrooke has not been confirmed.

Hisham Abdel-Rahman, medical director of Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust, said: "We apologise to the families and patients who did not receive the high quality care they deserved, and would like to express again our deep sympathy and condolences to these families.

"Having accepted and thoroughly investigated the failures identified, we have addressed the problems head on by investing extra resources, people and energy into the service.

"Patients can be assured that our colorectal service is safe and delivering high quality care. We are now working intensively with Circle to redesign the service around our patients' journey of care, and to develop an enhanced unit with fresh clinical talent."

Mr Abdel-Rahman defended the decision to allow the surgeons at the centre of the controversy to return to work in June, however. The surgeons are set to return after undertaking a formal re-entry programme, standard for clinicians who have been out-of-practice for some time.

He said: "The medical skill of the surgeons was never an issue. The failure was in the system and the processes. They [the surgeons] are acknowledging the failures and have said they want to work with us to be one of the top 10 hospitals in the area.

"Each hospital needs a good colorectal service and we need that level of surgery to sustain the maternity unit, A&E, and the rest of the hospital.

"If you remove the colorectal service, the whole hospital collapses. We have been working hard since autumn to ensure what we provide now is 100 per cent safe.

"We need to make sure the whole system and processes are not only going to deliver a safe surgical outcome, but a fantastic patient experience as well."

Nicholas Armitage, a top surgeon who works for the hospital's new managers Circle Partnership, has been brought in to oversee a raft of changes to the department which includes the appointment of two additional surgeons and more effective investigation of incidents.

The upper gastro-intestinal, lower gastro-intestinal and gastro-intestinal unit have been into one department. Hopes are to build the service into a centre of excellence.

An out-of-court settlement has been agreed between the hospital and Mrs Smith's family, though the exact amount has not been divulged.

Lawyer Jenny Baker who acts for the families of Mrs Smith and Mrs Spooner, said: "It is hoped that there has been a thorough investigation which will result in clear recommendations for change which are implemented swiftly and comprehensively in the interests of patient safety to avoid further basic errors in care."

n ARE you or have you been a patient of the colorectal department at Hinchingbrooke Hospital? What do you think about the changes? Has this restored your confidence in the hospital? E-mail us at news@huntspost.co.uk or call the Patient Advice and Liaison Service on 01480 428964.