Baby Health in Winter
An independent inquiry is expected to call for major changes in the way private hospitals supervise doctors after hundreds of women were put through unnecessary operations by a rogue breast surgeon.
Ian Paterson was jailed for 20 years in 2017 after being convicted of 13 counts of wounding with intent and three counts of unlawful wounding.
But his surgical malpractice may have harmed more than 750 women over more than a decade.
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
He carried out unnecessary surgery for breast cancer on women who did not have the disease, and put other women who did at risk by using his own unofficial technique, which left behind partial breast tissue.
On Tuesday an inquiry chaired by the Right Reverend Graham James, will be published and is expected to make recommendations about how doctors are allowed to work across both the NHS and private sector with minimal supervision and oversight.
One key area of focus is expected to be a process known as “practising privileges”, where private hospitals allow clinicians to carry out their own activities within the hospital, similar to self-employed contractors. They effectively rent the hospital space for their work.
Paterson worked under “practising privileges” with Spire Healthcare, and his insurance body denied they had responsibility for his actions. Eventually 750 of his patients were awarded £37m in compensation as part of an out of court settlement including the NHS.
Deborah Douglas, 61, from Hall Green, Birmingham, underwent an unnecessary surgery, which she said left her feeling “mutilated.”
The mother of three, who was 45 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, said she hoped the inquiry would lead to action to make patients safer.
She told The Independent: “The inquiry needs to come up with recommendations that can stop a person like Paterson from happening again. To protect other patients from someone like him.
“Spire didn’t employ him, he just rented a room; they washed their hands of him and we were left to pick up the pieces. He wasn’t monitored by them and there were warning signs they ignored.
“My biggest fear is that money is more important than patient safety in the private sector and it needs to change.”
Paterson was a consultant breast surgeon working at the Heart of England NHS Trust and the Spire Parkway and Spire Little Aston private hospitals in Solihull, West Midlands.
Despite concerns about his practice, neither the NHS nor Spire took action to stop him. He was only suspended in 2011.
The Independent Healthcare Providers Network, which represents the sector, has already said more needs to be done to ensure information is shared between the NHS and private companies about their doctors.
Ms Douglas, who runs the Breast Friends support group, said Paterson used the fact her parents had died from cancer to persuade her to have surgery using her private insurance.
She said: “He knew I was vulnerable. How did he get away with it for so long? Because he could, and that is what the inquiry needs to change.”
She added: “I want surgeons to be employed and working for the hospitals that will be responsible for monitoring them. They need to be responsible for what is going on in their hospitals.
“Thousands of NHS patients are being treated in the private sector and I don’t think most people realise how private healthcare in this country is delivered.”
The Centre for Health and the Public Interest has called for Paterson’s income and earnings as well as the profits made by Spire Healthcare to be treated as income from criminal acts, which could mean they could be reclaimed.
CHPI director David Rowland said he hoped the inquiry would recommend hospitals must employ doctors directly and be responsible for their actions.
He said: “One of the astonishing things about the current private hospital business model is that it is set up to insulate private hospital companies from the liability and costs of having to compensate patients who are harmed or injured.”
Earlier this month Spire Healthcare launched a recall of hundreds of patients amid concerns over operations carried out by surgeon Habib Rahman.
The surgeon is alleged to have performed unnecessary or inappropriate shoulder surgeries at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull, West Midlands, the same hospital where Ian Paterson operated.
Spire Healthcare has asked 217 patients of Mr Rahman, whose practice was suspended in January 2019, to return to hospital for a review of their care.
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