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by Louise Wilson
30 January 2024
Jason Leitch ‘not directly involved’ in Eljamel investigation

Prof Jason Leitch is the national clinical director | PA Images/Alamy

Jason Leitch ‘not directly involved’ in Eljamel investigation

Under-fire national clinical director Jason Leitch is “not involved” in the NHS Tayside investigation into disgraced surgeon Sam Eljamel, Scotland’s health secretary has said.

Michael Matheson told the parliament that while Leitch works under the same Scottish Government directorate – Healthcare Quality and Improvement – he was “not one of the officials undertaking this work”.

Former patients of Eljamel, many of whom were left with life-altering injuries, had expressed concern about Leitch’s involvement after a series of messages between him and government ministers during the coronavirus pandemic surfaced.

Leitch told the UK Covid Inquiry last week that his reference to the deleting of WhatsApp messages being a “pre-bed ritual” was a “flippant exaggeration”.

Tory MSP Liz Smith, who has worked closely with former patients of Eljamel, said the messages had “created very considerable concern” and felt it was “totally inappropriate” if Leitch was involved “in any way” in the investigation.

She asked for confirmation that the national clinical director was not involved, “even on an indirect basis”, given both his role within the relevant directorate and his employment at NHS Tayside.

Matheson said Leitch was “not directly involved”.

He added that Leitch was employed at NHS Tayside under “standard” terms and conditions and was engaged with the Scottish Government through a “service level agreement” with the health board. He said this was “typical of arrangements” to ensure the government could draw on specialist knowledge from the NHS.

Labour’s Daniel Johnson questioned whether Leitch is regarded as a civil servant and therefore subject to the relevant code of conduct.

Matheson said: “In terms of how the civil service code is applied, it’s a matter for the civil service director themselves. Of course, anyone who has undertaken civil service responsibilities, I would expect there to be an appropriate mechanism be in place for that, but that’s not a matter for ministers directly.”

Eljamel worked for NHS Tayside for 18 years, becoming the head of the neurosurgery department at Dundee's Ninewells Hospital. The consultant neurosurgeon left patients with life-altering injuries before he was eventually removed from his post in December 2013.

The health board is now conducting one-to-one case reviews with patients, overseen by Professor Craig White.

A public inquiry has also been announced, with the process for appointing a chair “at a very advanced stage”, Matheson added.

Speaking afterwards, Smith said: “Matheson... appeared to confirm that Jason Leitch had, at one stage, had conversations with Professor Craig White about the Eljamel case. For the purpose of transparency, the former patients need to know exactly what that involved.”

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