Patients may be aware of the conviction in May 2017 of Mr Ian Paterson, a breast surgeon, who worked at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and at the Spire Group of Independent Hospitals.
Mr Paterson was convicted of wounding his patients, in a highly improbable case, which has shocked both surgeons and patients in its scope, and the way in which concerns made by fellow medical clinicians about Mr Paterson’s practice were not examined promptly and with sufficient rigour by the hospitals concerned.
Although patients were not sufficiently protected by the NHS or the private hospital in this case, it is important to state that Mr Paterson’s case is an extremely rare exception. It contradicts the strong ethical values shared by the vast majority of surgeons, who act in the best interests of their patients, ensuring fully informed consent for treatment, and who follow strict clinical guidelines with regard to the treatments they provide.
It is essential that the patient surgeon relationship is founded on trust, and this should also include confidence in the hospital where treatment is to be carried out.
Although Mr Paterson was not a colorectal surgeon, there may be useful information for patients to consider when facing treatment either in the NHS or in the private healthcare sector.
Patients should not hesitate to ask questions of their surgeons. Surgeons who put patients at the centre of their practice welcome ensuring that the patient has sufficient information and discussion to enable them to make genuine informed consent for a procedure, and should not be offended if the patient asks for a second opinion. Patients should not feel uncomfortable asking for a second opinion.
Patients should ask their surgeons how many times they have undertaken the procedure they are offered, and their outcomes or results.
Private patients should note that facilities available in the private sector, including equipment and staffing numbers, differ from the NHS and patients may like to ask their surgeon, not only about the risks of a certain procedure, but also whether there might be additional risks in having the treatment at the private hospital rather than at their local NHS hospital.
Consultant outcome information is available on the ACPGBI website, together with an explanation for patients.
PHIN (Private Healthcare Information Network) has published from 3 May 2017 the first performance data on private hospitals and more detailed information will be rolled out in the future.
There are other sources of information on performance at some NHS Trust sites.
If patients have any concerns about their treatment or are unsure how to proceed with a particular treatment, they should not hesitate to ask for a second opinion, and can contact the Patient Liaison Service (PALS) at their local hospital, who will be able to give guidance on this process.