This is the first of three articles recently written by Thompsons Solicitors for the Society of Labour Lawyers' publication Justice for All. If you would like to contribute an article analysing or commenting on a legal development from a left-wing point of view, please send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org
More needs to be done to protect privately treated patients from malpractice
By Linda Millband, national practice lead for medical negligence at Thompsons Solicitors
In September 2017, the team at Thompsons Solicitors finally secured compensation for over 500 former patients of the disgraced former breast surgeon Ian Paterson. It was a cruelly and unnecessarily prolonged fight for women (and men) who were disgracefully treated by a man who in the words of one of our clients ‘played God’ with his patient’s lives.
Mr. Paterson carried out totally unnecessary surgical procedures and operations on patients both in the NHS and at hospitals run by private healthcare provider Spire. These ranged from invasive lumpectomies when biopsies would have sufficed, all the way through to full mastectomies on women it later transpired did not have breast cancer. A number of the injuries that he inflicted on his patients are very serious and there have been a significant number of fatalities.
Watching the reaction to publicity on this case was astonishing and profoundly moving. Every time Mr Paterson was featured in the national press – with whom we worked closely - more claimants came forward from all parts of the UK, and even from abroad. Even though he only operated from two private hospitals in the West Midlands (as well as one NHS Trust), as the news got around more and more people started questioning what it had never occurred them to question before – did they really need to have gone through what they went through, did a surgeon (described as ‘charming’ by some) whom they trusted operate on them purely to get more money?
It is deeply shocking how many people have been affected by his actions.
While working on the case and analysing the issues, it seemed to us that there is a flaw at the heart of the private healthcare industry. Paterson was able to continue operating for far too long; Spire’s monitoring and auditing of his activities appeared lacking and there was no effective system to review his work. He pulled the wool over the eyes of his patients but he appears to have done the same to Spire too.
This is why we developed our Patients before Profits campaign. The NHS put their hands up and moved swiftly to deal with Mr Paterson when his abuse began to emerge. We need legislation to ensure private healthcare providers take the same responsibility for surgeons who operate within their hospitals and have the same high standards of governance and audits as the NHS. It cannot happen again that a patient the victim of clinical negligence can be told as one of our clients was by an employee of Spire that Spire had no responsibility for Paterson as they 'only rented him a room.'
And there needs to be adequate insurance cover in place in case things go wrong.
Paterson only had £10m worth of insurance cover. It cannot be acceptable that whereas the NHS picks up the bill for the malpractice of their doctors, private consultants whose actions can equally destroy or take lives and in whom it could be said people place greater trust as they are paying privately for their care have insurance that wouldn’t cover major catastrophes such as this. £10m wouldn’t cover even one catastrophic brain injury case.
Spire also had a policy which covered £10m, however they didn’t agree a settlement until five weeks before the civil trial, years after we started pursuing him.
In December 2017, the government announced that from January 2018 there is to be an independent, non-statutory inquiry into the medical negligence of Ian Paterson. We welcomed the Inquiry needs to be detailed and swiftly concluded.
We have previously expressed doubt in the current government’s political commitment to take on and tackle failings of the private health sector. Our concerns are reinforced given that the recommendations of this inquiry will not be binding and it could simply ‘kick the can down the road’.
There are steps we have called for that could, with political will, have been taken by now. There is nothing to stop the government immediately insisting on for parity between private healthcare providers and the NHS so that private hospitals have to take the same responsibility for surgeons as the NHS and are required to adhere to the same high standards of governance and audits as the NHS.
It has been an honour to act for the victims of Mr Paterson and to assist in bringing about a settlement. For the sake of those whose lives have been devastated and to ensure that no one else needlessly suffers in the same way, there needs to be real change and we will continue to campaign alongside our clients for that.