Surgeons call for review of private healthcare safety standards

Following the actions of disgraced breast surgeon Ian Paterson, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has called for greater transparency in the private healthcare sector, after hundreds of patients have successfully made medical negligence claims against the surgeon when it emerged he had been conducting unnecessary procedures.

Paterson, now 59, was convicted in May 2017 of 17 counts of wounding with intent and 3 of unlawful wounding, after exaggerating or inventing risks of cancer in potentially thousands of former patients. His convictions currently relate to 9 female patients and 1 male, whilst thousands more patients have also been affected over the years and may be entitled to make medical negligence claims. As it stands the NHS has already paid out almost £10 million in medical negligence compensation to hundreds of his victims, with that figure likely to rise given that the publicity around the case would be expected to bring more claimants forward.

Paterson operated from a private practice run by Little Aston and Parkway Hospitals in the West Midlands between 1997 and 2011. He conducted more than 1,200 mastectomies, 675 of those patients have since died, with a further 68 seeing their cancer return since being operated on. Bosses at the Heart of England NHS Trust which oversaw Paterson’s practice have since been accused of failing thousands of patients, failing to notice suspicious practice on the part of Paterson over a period of several years.

Whilst Paterson’s horrific crimes have finally been brought to an end, the extent and duration of his criminal activity poses difficult questions about the transparency of medical practice in the private sector, and have prompted the RCS to issue an open letter to the UK’s next government to improve oversight in the area. In the letter the RCS express support for a government inquiry as to how the rogue surgeon was allowed to continue his practice for so long. The RCS will also conduct its own investigation into Paterson’s case and his judgement, as well as why so many of his fellow doctors were apparently unable or unwilling to spot, or challenge what he was doing.

Miss Clare Marx, President of the RCS issues a statement in the open letter, which contains the following:

“Patient safety initiatives have tended to concentrate on the NHS but we also need a strong focus on the private sector, particularly in the collection and publication of patient safety data in private hospitals. We are therefore calling for a review of the sector to look at how safety standards and data transparency can improve. Similarly, regulation is not keeping pace with the booming industry of cosmetic surgery, which also largely takes place in the private sector.”

Paterson’s crimes are an example of how medical negligence can occur when surgical procedures are undertaken without informed consent, or where the patient has been subject to undue pressure to have the procedure, or in these cases, have simply been misled by a surgeon or other medical professional. The patient-surgeon relationship is one of deep trust. In this case, this trust was taken advantage of.

In the case of Ian Paterson, the Court heard how his motives may have included greed, to increase his earnings by undertaking unnecessary procedures. Typically, patients consider suing a surgeon for miss-selling in relation to cosmetic surgery claims. At Blackwater Law we have previously discussed the issue of miss-selling of cosmetic surgery procedures and the need for a cooling-off period.

Some believe (and the RCS refer to) the potential need for increased transparency in private medical care. NHS Trusts are obliged to regularly publish information and data concerning performance against key performance indicator and targets, as well as data on incidences of medical negligence, such as Never Events and Serious Incidents. Such statistics can be found at https://improvement.nhs.uk/resources/ and have been discussed by medical negligence solicitors at Blackwater Law in previous articles such as ‘Essex NHS Trusts Report 1035 Serious Medical Negligence Incidents‘.

Hospital negligence claims may also be made where the potential risks of surgery are not adequately explained to patients prior to surgery, especially where this can be shown to have influenced their decision to undertake the procedure.

Patients may also consider suing a surgeon where surgical error provides grounds for a surgical error claim to be made. Surgical errors include medical apparatus being left inside of patients, operating on the wrong part of the body, failing to diagnose a condition upon undertaking investigative surgery or failing to repair incisions correctly.  Many of these incidents are classified as Never Events. These incidents represent failures so basic, and so easily avoided that if mandatory UK healthcare provision standards, practices or procedures are followed they should simply never happen.

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