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Dundee

Campaigner who first exposed disgraced Dundee surgeon Sam Eljamel on the downfall of a ‘coward’

When news of his suspension broke on May 20 2014, the initial feeling was one of shock and disbelief.
Graeme Strachan
Sam Eljamel at Ninewells Hospital in 2009. Image: DC Thomson.
Sam Eljamel at Ninewells Hospital in 2009. Image: DC Thomson.

Sam Eljamel was the toast of the medical profession.

He was head of the neurosurgery unit at Ninewells Hospital and became the poster boy for NHS Tayside with fawning articles singing his praises.

Eljamel was widely regarded as one of Scotland’s most respected surgeons and lauded for his work in spinal and brain surgery.

He was charming, charismatic and intelligent.

Eljamel was also a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.

When news of his suspension broke 10 years ago, the initial feeling was one of shock and disbelief.

He was suspended after a patient had undergone surgery on the wrong spinal disc.

Eljamel also stepped down from his teaching and research posts at Dundee University.

It was a stunning fall from grace for a once high-flying surgeon.

But it wasn’t a complete surprise to everyone.

Pat Kelly thought he was just unlucky

Pat Kelly had gone under the knife for major back surgery in 2007.

He continued to suffer chronic discomfort following surgery from Eljamel that left him with walking difficulties and reliant on a cocktail of pain relief drugs.

The former Radio Tay DJ was forced into early retirement at the age of 54 in 2013.

Pat Kelly looking back through his medical notes. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson.

He said: “Sam Eljamel appeared to be treated like royalty within the medical world.

“I believed all the hype that surrounded him.

“I later discovered it was him who was creating the hype which preceded his career at Ninewells Hospital.

“Eljamel was clever enough to say to me that some operations were never successful.

“So, when I never improved, I thought that was the case, and I was just unlucky.

“In May 2014, The Courier ran a headline that Eljamel had been suspended.

“Having worked in the media for over 30 years, I knew there was more to this story about why he was suspended.”

Sam Eljamel at Ninewells Hospital with surgical equipment.
Sam Eljamel beside a surgical microscope navigator at Ninewells Hospital in 1999. Image: DC Thomson.

He decided to write to NHS Tayside for more information.

Mr Kelly was sent for an MRI scan in 2014 that showed his discs were in exactly the same position as they were prior to surgery in 2007.

He said: “In other words, the operation on my thoracic discs had not been performed.

“This surgery nearly cost me my life.

“I decided to go public.

“Here I was accusing a surgeon of serious medical negligence and, thankfully, The Courier believed me and ran the story.

“It was not easy back then.

“Eljamel was a powerful man, and I was publicly accusing him of serious medical wrongdoing.

“But thankfully, I was proved right.”

Some colleagues stood by Eljamel

Mr Kelly demanded a public inquiry to uncover what exactly was known about Eljamel’s behaviour before action was taken.

The story prompted more victims to come forward with their own harrowing stories.

The floodgates effectively opened.

Some doctors who were friends of Eljamel could not and would not believe it.

Some still believe that to this day he is innocent.

Eljamel takes centre stage during a Ninewells Hospital open day in 1999. Image: DC Thomson.

“But the facts and evidence speak for themselves,” said Mr Kelly.

“Many people knew what Eljamel was up to but chose to keep quiet.

“They are as bad as him, in my view.

“One of the hardest things for me was when patients started sending and highlighting their stories.

“Botched brain, back surgery, people losing their sight.

“It made difficult reading for me and I often questioned if I did the right thing coming forward.

“I was questioning if it was better for these patients to know or just think, like me in the early days, that I had just been unlucky.”

Five-star jolly to the Copacabana Beach

Eljamel travelled the world giving medical talks while suspended in the UK.

He sparked fury in May 2015 when he jetted off to address guests at the five-star Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.

He retired from NHS Tayside in August and subsequently gave up his licence to practise ahead of a hearing to decide if he should be struck off.

Eljamel refused to go quietly.

Professor Jerry Lambert, Sam Eljamel and NHS Tayside chairman Peter Bates in 2002. Image: DC Thomson.

Liverpool University and Dundee University also investigated claims Eljamel was pretending to work there for some speaking engagements.

He even designed his own tartan.

Eljamel registered the white, black, green, red, blue and yellow tartan in his name.

The colour scheme infuriated former patients as it stated: “White is for purity, sincerity and peace; black for strength and courage; green for hope and love; red for honour and sacrifice; blue for strength and loyalty; and yellow for generosity and charity”.

Eljamel with new brain surgery equipment in 2003. Image: DC Thomson.

In October 2016 our intervention led to Eljamel’s appearance at the Royal Society of Medicine conference in London being hastily cancelled by red-faced organisers.

It was brought to their attention that he no longer held a medical licence.

Eljamel fled to Libya in February 2018

“It was truly sickening to watch him travel the world giving lectures to other medical professionals,” said Mr Kelly.

“Then he designed his own tartan with colours which declared his love and compassion and other such nonsense.

“This to me proved what an evil narcissist he really was – doing this while patients struggled.

“Coming from a media background, I started to gather any information I could get on Eljamel.

“Then I met with Jules Rose, who was also harmed by Eljamel. Jules is a very feisty lady and, like me, we both wanted answers.

“We were getting nowhere, with the authorities constantly slamming doors in our faces.

“They could not see that all we wanted was answers and the truth.”

Eljamel at the Dundee Medical Club annual dinner in 2010.. Image: DC Thomson.

Eljamel fled to his home country, Libya, to dodge culpability.

The Courier stood side by side with patients who were scarred mentally and physically by Eljamel’s botched work during their fight for justice.

Mid Scotland and Fife Conservative MSP Liz Smith and Dundee Labour MSP Michael Marra assisted victims of the surgeon in their campaign for a public inquiry.

For a long time Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government rejected the demands.

Public inquiry victory after almost a decade

Survivors were finally handed a victory when the full probe was confirmed by Humza Yousaf in September 2023 during his short tenure as First Minister.

Eljamel is now operating as a surgeon in the city of Misrata, although it looks unlikely he will be extradited from Libya to answer for the suffering he has caused.

Eljamel in promotional materials for his work in the Middle East. Image: Supplied.

Mr Kelly said: “After battling since 2015 for a public inquiry, we were pleased when it was finally announced in September 2023.

“My only hope is that those who helped to cover up will finally see what they have done to us.

“There is a lot more to come out, and I believe we don’t know the half of it.

“This man, Eljamel, did not deserve the loyalty of his colleagues, who did more harm to patients by not standing up to him and calling him out for what he is – a coward.”

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