I was at Nottingham Crown Court last week when a jury delivered their verdict of guilty on 17 counts of wounding with intent, at the trial of breast surgeon, Ian Paterson who had been accused of performing unnecessary operations, spanning almost a decade.
Having advised former patients of Paterson since 2010, (I was the lead solicitor on the Paterson claims prior to joining Shoosmiths), I am acutely aware of the trauma that has been needlessly inflicted upon them and the mental and physical scars they now have to live with.
Some have told me that they now feel foolish for believing in Paterson in the first place, which is totally understandable. You should rightly have confidence that any healthcare practitioner has your best interests at heart. Paterson was convincing and many of his professional colleagues were also deceived by his charismatic bedside manner.
Paterson is expected to receive a life sentence, which we hope will provide a sense of justice to his many victims, enabling them to start the process of closure and paving the way for early settlement of their civil claims.
But the Paterson case has highlighted an issue surrounding regulation and liability in the private healthcare sector that urgently requires attention if full redress is to be achieved and patients are to be protected from the type of harm inflicted by Paterson, going forward.
The statement today by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt indicating that, if the government is returned to power, it will hold a ‘comprehensive and focused inquiry to ensure that any lessons are learnt in the interests of ensuring patients are protected in future’ is a welcome step in the right direction, although in my opinion, a full public enquiry is required.
A full public inquiry will look into how Paterson, who worked for the Heart of England NHS Trust (HEFT) and Spire Healthcare, was allowed to continue carrying out these operations for more than a decade after concerns were first raised despite fears and suspicion of his methods.
Beyond this, the question of accountability and routes of redress when it comes to medical negligence in private healthcare urgently need to be addressed. It is estimated that more than 1000 women and men could have suffered at the hands of Paterson. To date, the NHS has paid out nearly £18 million in settling cases with more than 250 victims. But victims of the rogue surgeon who underwent surgery carried out by him at private Spire Healthcare hospitals may not receive a penny as a result of a liability ‘loophole’.
Spire Healthcare, which runs the hospital where Paterson treated private patients, has said it is not liable for paying compensation because he was technically not their employee – although they have settled in a select number of cases.
At the same time, Paterson’s professional indemnity insurer, the Medical Defence Union, which is a mutual company, have said his cover was ‘discretionary’ – meaning the cover can be pulled at any time - and because Paterson’s operations were illegal they were not covered by the policy.
Consequently, for many victims of Paterson’s who placed their faith in the promise of superior private health provision, there may not be any form of redress; no potential for compensation to help them get their lives back on track having undergone enormously damaging and invasive surgery that wasn’t required.
This is clearly not a situation that can be allowed to continue. At Shoosmiths, we have seen many instances of claimants being left to flounder when it comes to private healthcare medical negligence liability, simply because the route to recourse is not subject to the same regulation as that of the NHS. This does not mean, however, that it is impossible to source financial settlements and we continue to apply all efforts to helping claimants in these complex situations secure justice.
To go back to the Paterson case, the question of who should be held liable, when it comes to private healthcare victims will be considered by the civil courts later this year. Shoosmiths will continue to fight for the rights of former patients who have come to us for legal advice representation. We will also seek to shine a spotlight on the need for greater regulation and clear cut accountability when it comes to private healthcare medical negligence claims in general.
Partner at Shoosmiths (Medical Negligence)
ENDSFor further information please contact:
Phone: 03700 866736
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Note to Editors
Shoosmiths is the consumer legal advice arm of national law firm Shoosmiths LLP, which has been established for over 165 years. The firm has offices in Birmingham, Basingstoke, Manchester, London, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Nottingham, Reading, Southampton, Edinburgh and Belfast. A wide range of legal services is delivered online via the Shoosmiths website. This gives a direct link to lawyers who strive to simplify the law for their clients. Shoosmiths’s services for individuals and their families range from education law, claiming compensation for serious personal injury and writing or challenging the provisions in a Will to handling legal disputes, gaining compensation for medical negligence and advice concerning injuries at work or through industrial disease.
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