The Health Minister, Philip Dunne, today announced the establishment of an independent, but non-statutory, inquiry into the harm inflicted on his patients through the deliberate clinical negligence of convicted breast surgeon Ian Paterson to be chaired by the Right Reverend Graham James, Bishop of Norwich.
Employed as a consultant by the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust (HEFT), Paterson also had practicing privileges in the private health sector at Spire Parkway and Spire Little Aston hospitals. He was found guilty of 17 counts of wounding patients with intent in April 2017 and his sentence was increased to 20 years following a sentencing review.
Investigating NHS and private sector negligence
Ian Paterson’s crimes sent shockwaves through the health system and many expressed the view that lessons had to be learned to make sure something similar could never happen again. There were some concerns that the remit of Bishop’s inquiry would cover only Paterson’s practices in the NHS, however it appears that the scope of the investigation has been widened to include both the NHS and the private sector.
A Department of Health statement quoted Right Reverend Graham James as saying:
‘The interests of all patients, whether they seek treatment in the NHS or the private sector, should be at the heart of this inquiry and I will do my very best in the interest of those affected and the public.’
Commenting on the announcement, Kashmir Uppal, a specialist medical negligence solicitor who has been instrumental in pursuing claims on behalf of those injured by Paterson since 2010, said:
‘My preference was that the managerial failings, which allowed Paterson to do what he did for so long, were addressed ideally through a full public inquiry. However, despite the inquiry’s non-statutory status, I am reassured that the Bishop, with the assistance of his investigating panel of a QC and surgeon, will conduct a thorough investigation including any further action needed to strengthen the CQC’s inspection regime.’
Differences in access to justice for private patients
Lesley Cuthbert, a client of Shoosmiths treated by Paterson at Spire Parkway Hospital commented:
‘Having faced a long wait and uncertainty about whether I (and hundreds of others) would be compensated for the pain and distress Paterson caused, even after he was convicted, I am pleased that the inquiry will look into the cases of people he harmed in private practice. My hope is that the Bishop may also address the discrepancy in access to justice for patients injured in private practice rather than the NHS.’
The remit of the inquiry
Initial reports suggest that the inquiry will consider the responsibility for the quality of care, appraisal and validation of staff in the private health sector, the safety of multi-disciplinary working, information sharing, reporting of activity and raising concerns between the private sector and the NHS. The role of insurers providing medical indemnity cover for ‘self-employed’ clinicians such as Paterson in the private sector will also be examined.
The investigation will also draw on the conclusions of previous reviews about Ian Paterson’s conduct, including Sir Ian Kennedy’s review on behalf of HEFT and Verita’s investigation into the governance arrangements at two Spire Healthcare hospitals.
The inquiry is to be formally established from January 2018 and is expected to report in summer 2019. Its terms of reference and other arrangements – including the exact scope of what it will cover - will be confirmed at a future date.