09 February 2023

Patient safety ‘still not a priority’ three years after Paterson report – victim

09 February 2023

Patient safety is still “not being given the priority it deserves” three years after the publication of a damning report into rogue breast surgeon Ian Paterson, a health campaigner has said.

Paterson was convicted in 2017 of 17 counts of wounding with intent and three counts of unlawful wounding.

His 15-year jail term was later increased to 20 years, by the Court of Appeal.

An independent inquiry into the circumstances then found he carried out unnecessary operations in NHS and private hospitals on more than 1,000 patients over 14 years, exaggerating or inventing cancer risks and claiming payments for more expensive procedures.

The inquiry report concluded that Paterson, originally from Scotland, had been free to perform harmful surgery in NHS and private hospitals for years, because of “a culture of avoidance and denial” in a “dysfunctional” healthcare system where there was “wilful blindness” to his behaviour.

The inquiry, chaired by the ex-Bishop of Norwich, was published in February 2020, and produced 15 recommendations to better protect patients.

However, Deborah Douglas, a victim of Paterson and a patient campaigner who has for years advocated for all those harmed by the disgraced surgeon, said health chiefs in the NHS and private sector needed to “get on” with finishing the work outlined by the report.

“It’s three years and technically none of the recommendations are closed,” she said.

You thought you may or may not have had cancer years ago, so you should get that checked

“It’s all around patient safety and it’s not being given the priority it deserves.”

Paterson worked at Spire Parkway hospital and Spire Little Aston hospital in the West Midlands, as well as NHS hospitals run by the now defunct Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust.

Both the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Spire Healthcare, which now runs the private hospitals Paterson worked at, have said they are committed to implementing all the report’s recommendations and were committed to patient safety.

One of the key calls was to make sure all of Paterson’s patients were recalled, however, only last week Spire said it would be contacting a further 1,500 patients, whose details were found on legacy IT systems.

Ms Douglas said: “The recall has started in NHS and private sector.

“However, as I found out sadly this week, 1,500 patients in the private sector were missed.”

Ms Douglas urged former patients of Paterson, contacted through the recalls, to ensure they exercise their right to have their medical records reviewed, adding “a lot of people have not – that’s in Spire and also the NHS”.

“You thought you may or may not have had cancer years ago, so you should get that checked,” she said.

We understand that there is no room for complacency when it comes to patient safety

“The pattern with Paterson is he would remove lumps out of breasts, from other parts of their bodies – if he said there was a tumour in it.

“Whether varicose veins being stripped, a hernia operation, gall stones, gall bladder, you should be checking these things because that’s part of Paterson’s modus operandi – that would mean you were over-operated on.”

Ms Douglas also said the issue of patients, wilfully harmed at the hands of unscrupulous clinicians in a private hospital setting, then having to fight for compensation, had still not been settled.

The issue of properly constituted multi-disciplinary teams (MDTs) had not been completed, she said, adding, “there is not a formal standard of who and who should not get MDTs – again that is waiting to be published”.

Ms Douglas also said more information was needed on the online private healthcare information network (Phin) database, designed to set out the performance and fees of private consultants and hospitals.

“The date given for completion of Phin is 2026, which is just ridiculously long,” she said.

“The database now shows the consultant’s name and very little else – it doesn’t say whether they’ve had any suspensions… it doesn’t show metrics on numbers of operations,” added Ms Douglas.

“Had that been around during Paterson’s time, they’d have picked Paterson up as an outlier.”

“For me, that’s a really key thing to have, both for the hospitals to look at and for patients to look at before they make a decision on which consultant they should use.”

Ms Douglas also wants private hospitals to be “leveraged” by the Government, which has been “spending billions” with the sector to clear help clear NHS waiting lists, so more are equipped with their own intensive care units (ICUs).

“The Government have had an ideal opportunity to make those hospitals safer.”

“We must get the recommendations closed out – not to rush it, but we’ve had three years,” she said.

“What frustrates me, is at the end of every December we’re told we will get another update, next December.

“We can’t keep going on year after year, with nothing closing out.”

Dr Cathy Cale, Spire’s group medical director, previously said: “We accepted the recommendations of the independent inquiry into Paterson in 2020 and are fully committed to implementing them.”

Maria Caulfield, health minister – speaking during the last inquiry update on December 15 last year – said “good progress has been made”.

Patients had “more access to information relevant to their treatment” and now had “the right to access their treatment records, and clinicians are aware of the need to write to patients directly following a consultation or treatment”.

The minister added guidance for MDTs, complaints procedures, and governance had been introduced or over-hauled – including a new national recall framework.

In September last year, the first ever patient safety commissioner was appointed, and the Government has been consulting on future changes to indemnity, so harmed patients can “have confidence” they will get proper compensation.

“We understand that there is no room for complacency when it comes to patient safety and, together with the patient safety commissioner, will make sure this is one building block towards a health system which patients … can have the maximum possible confidence”, said the minister.

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