Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf has announced the formation of a public inquiry into rogue neurosurgeon Professor Sam Eljamel.

Prof Eljamel worked at NHS Tayside from 1995 until he was suspended in 2013 for what Mr Yousaf described as “despicable actions”.

Calls for a public inquiry have increased since NHS Tayside published a report last week which revealed Prof Eljamel operated on 111 patients between his suspension and leaving his employment.

The Scottish Government had previously been against the idea of a public inquiry, but Health Secretary Michael Matheson told MSPs the review undertaken by the health board had changed his mind, citing the fact that new information is still coming to light a decade on.

But he also said Prof Eljamel could not be compelled to appear before the inquiry, due to being outside Scottish and UK jurisdiction, with his last known whereabouts reportedly being in Libya.

Humza Yousaf
First Minister Humza Yousaf confirmed in Parliament that a public inquiry will be held (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Jules Rose – who has been campaigning for an inquiry for a decade and formed a pressure group to push for it – said earlier this month that more than 200 patients may have been impacted by Prof Eljamel.

Mr Yousaf told MSPs: “This is a deeply important issue and I can inform the chamber today that Health Secretary Michael Matheson will use his statement to the chamber this afternoon to confirm that the Government has decided to commission a full, independent public inquiry.

“This comes after very careful consideration of the recent due diligence review, which said concerns about Professor Eljamel were not acted on with the urgency they deserved.

“In commissioning the inquiry, it remains important that those people directly affected are still supported to find the answers they need and that both staff and patients across Scotland know that lessons are being learned.”

Scottish Labour MSP Michael Marra – who is among a group of Tayside and Perth-based politicians who have pushed for an inquiry – said the announcement had to be “wrung out of the Government”, and he paid tribute to Ms Rose and fellow campaigner Pat Kelly.

Mr Yousaf said he did not agree with the characterisation, saying both he and the Health Secretary never ruled out a public inquiry into the disgraced surgeon.

Conservative MSP Liz Smith, who has long been campaigning for the victims to receive answers, welcomed the decision, and asked if a victim support fund for those impacted could be considered.

Mr Yousaf said: “There are, as Liz Smith knows well, appropriate routes in relation to compensation that families can go through when it comes to health boards.

“Of course, if there are other avenues that we can explore to support patients, then we will give that consideration, but there are already established avenues for patients who have suffered as a result of the NHS to be able to claim compensation.”

He did admit, however, that these routes to compensation “can be difficult to navigate”, reiterating the Government will investigate any support that can be offered.

In his statement to Holyrood, Mr Matheson said: “I was of the view that there were other, potentially faster and more individually responsive ways to seek to find the answers for what (the victims) were looking for.

“However… after considering the findings of the due diligence review, my view has significantly changed.”

Professor Sam Eljamel protest
Campaigners staged a protest outside Holyrood earlier this week (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The failings exposed in the review can only be examined through a public inquiry, Mr Matheson said, adding the Scottish Government had not previously been aware NHS Tayside did not respond to Prof Eljamel’s request for voluntary erasure from the medical register, that there was not oversight from the board of historical information or concerns, and there were multiple reviews where no follow up action was recorded.

Some documents relating to the scandal, the minister said, had also been destroyed, in line with normal practice, when they should have been retained.

“I have reflected on the concerns of former patients and MSPs since the findings were considered by the board of NHS Tayside, and I’m clear that the board’s governance obligations were repeatedly not implemented,” Mr Matheson said.

Asked by SNP MSP Jim Fairlie what can be done to force Prof Eljamel to return to Scotland and appear before the inquiry, the Health Secretary said: “My understanding is that Mr Eljamel is outwith Scottish and UK jurisdictions, and it would be dependent on him actually being willing to return.”

The announcement comes after patients harmed by Prof Eljamel during his time at NHS Tayside and campaigners gathered outside the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday wearing surgical garb to call for a public inquiry.

On the same day, Mr Matheson told journalists there was a chance the rogue doctor could be extradited back to Scotland from his current home in Libya to be “brought to account”.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for NHS Tayside said the board “supports” the announcement and it would “participate fully in the process”.

“NHS Tayside sincerely apologised to all former patients of the surgeon when it published the findings and recommendations of its due diligence review into the former neurosurgeon last week.

“The aim of that review was to provide a fresh assessment of the professional, clinical and corporate governance position relating to Professor Eljamel’s tenure, which ended when he was suspended in 2013.

“This is in line with this Board’s commitment to an open and honest approach to learn lessons and make improvements when there have been failings.”

The statement added: “NHS Tayside will continue to do whatever is required to support all independent processes which are established.”