DOCTORS at a private hospital are facing a criminal investigation over the death of a patient in February.

The inquest into the death of James Hughes, 66, was dramatically halted today after doctors admitted his death “might have been prevented” if he had been given surgery earlier.

Mr Hughes had flown from his home in Northern Ireland specifically for a knee replacement operation in the Clementine Churchill Hospital in Harrow, on February 5.

However, less than a week later on February 11 and still in the Sudbury Road facility he complained of stomach pains and was checked by a Bulgarian doctor Tsvetan Georgiev, in his second week working there.

He suspected Mr Hughes was suffering from colitis brought on by antibiotics administered after his knee operation and ordered blood tests, when he in fact had a tear in his bowel.

Dr Georgiev checked him twice more during the day, prescribing painkillers, but admits he failed to make notes or to inform Mr Hughes' consultant about the problem.

When asked at North London Coroners Court in Barnet why he had not made the notes Dr Georgiev replied he was too busy having to check on other patients in the 140 bed hospital.

He also denied claims made by Frances Hughes, the daughter of Mr Hughes, that her father was struggling to communicate with staff about how severe his condition was.

Eventually Mr Hughes rang his consultant himself, who in turn called surgeon David Sellu asking him to check on the patient, who told his family he was in “terrible pain”.

Mr Sellu checked Mr Hughes, who by this time had been X-rayed, at about 9pm and thought he may have a tear in his bowel, ordering Dr Georgiev to take blood cultures before starting him on more antibiotics.

Dr Georgiev told the court he felt “totally ignored” by Mr Sellu adding: “He said clearly no antibiotics were to be given for that night.”

When asked how he felt when he heard Mr Hughes had died he said: “It was a very bad, terrible, feeling.

“It could have been avoided if the operation was done on Thursday evening or Thursday night.”

Dr Georgiev also admitted he “probably” failed to check notes made by nurses showing Mr Hughes had a spike in temperature that afternoon, an early sign infection was setting in.

Mr Sellu was grilled on why he failed to organise a CT scan to check the extent of the problem that night, replying he “really wanted him to have a peaceful night” before the scan.

When asked by Coroner Andrew Walker on why he did not want to know the extent of the problem at the earliest opportunity he said Mr Hughes would have to go through a period of “resuscitation” before having the scan anyway.

Mr Sellu said he went to see Mr Hughes “early” the next morning before his scan, but admitted he made no notes of what he administered, which he described as a “failing”.

He also told the court he had made some inquiries into theatre availability the next day on Thursday as “preparation” in the event of Mr Hughes needing surgery.

But Mr Sellu said he did not get the results of the CT scan until 2pm on Friday, when he started looking for an anaesthetist, conducting a “routine procedure” at 2.30pm on another patient.

Asked how urgent he felt Mr Hughes' case was he said he felt he should be taken into surgery “within one to two hours” adding: “I wanted to operate on him as soon as I could get all the facilities in place.”

However, he said he could not “crash” the surgery list already in place as he was struggling to find a willing anaesthetist, when he started looking himself at 4pm.

Mr Hughes was eventually taken into surgery at 10pm, but when he was “opened up” Mr Sellu said there was a lot of puss, admitting “the chances of survival were not high” and saying the delay in surgery “might have” contributed to Mr Hughes' death from sepsis the next day.

Coroner Andrew Walker will now hand the file over the the Crown Prosecution Service in Harrow to decide whether there should be an charges brought over the incident.