The independent, non-statutory, inquiry into the harm inflicted on his patients by convicted breast surgeon Ian Paterson, chaired by the Right Reverend Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, was formally launched on 6 February 2018.
Kashmir Uppal, a specialist medical negligence solicitor who has been instrumental in pursuing claims on behalf of those injured by Paterson since 2010 and Sharon Banga, part of the legal team assisting Kashmir throughout that period, will attend an event today, Friday 9 February, at the Greswolde Arms Hotel in Knowle where inquiry personnel will be present to answer queries.
Paterson patients and relatives asked for views on remit of investigation
Former patients of Ian Paterson and relatives of patients who have died, have been invited to get in touch to tell the inquiry team what is important to them. Kashmir explains:
‘At this stage the inquiry is not seeking to take detailed evidence about what happened and opinions or evidence about what needs to change. Rather, they are asking former patients of Ian Paterson and relatives of patients to draw the inquiry’s attention to the issues they believe should be included in the complete terms of reference for the inquiry, which have not yet been finalised.’
Inquiry terms of reference yet to be finalised
When the inquiry was announced it was promised that it would be ‘informed’ by the views and priorities of patients of Ian Paterson and their families and its remit would be likely consider:
- the responsibility for the quality of care in the independent sector
- appraisal and validation of staff in the independent sector
- the safety of multidisciplinary working
- information sharing between the independent sector and the NHS
- the role of insurers of independent sector healthcare providers
- arrangements for indemnity cover for clinicians in the independent sector
The inquiry will not revisit existing evidence about Paterson’s practice including the evidence that led to his conviction. However, Kashmir has no doubt that that the Bishop is committed to ensuring that the interests of all Paterson’s victims - patients and families - are at the heart of this inquiry.
Questions inquiry should answer
An inquiry is often pressed to answer the immediate questions of what happened and who was responsible as well as recommending what can be done in future to prevent such tragic events recurring. This is understandable and often essential to restore public confidence and to provide victims and their families with some sense of closure and justice. Inquiries can (and often do) give much more forensic detail about how and where failings may have occurred, although they cannot establish criminal or civil liability.
‘In the case of the Paterson inquiry, those two questions of what happened and who was primarily responsible have already been answered to some extent by the trial and criminal conviction. It is the third issue - that of preventing recurrence and identifying lessons that can be learned to improve institutions, behaviours and potentially legislation – which is arguably the most significant outcome of this, and indeed any, inquiry process.’
Differences between statutory and non-statutory public inquiries
Public inquiries can take a statutory and non-statutory form and the Paterson inquiry, although independent, is the latter, non-statutory investigation. The main differences between statutory and non-statutory inquiries are that a non-statutory inquiry has to rely on the voluntary compliance of witnesses and cannot take evidence on oath.
In addition, statutory inquiries held under the Inquiries Act 2005 operate on the presumption that hearings will take place in public. Non-statutory inquiries are frequently preferred when matters of ‘intelligence’ may need to be examined in private, as with the Butler and Chilcot inquiries on the Iraq war, for example - both held on a non-statutory basis.
Kashmir’s stated preference was for a full, statutory, public inquiry where witnesses would have been compelled to attend and give evidence on oath. However, she accepts that non-statutory inquiries can provide greater flexibility and have been used previously to effectively investigate controversial events of national concern:
‘The inquiry into the deaths at Deepcut Barracks, for example, was a non-statutory inquiry and was considered an in-depth report into those tragic events. I remain reassured and trust that this inquiry will conduct an equally thorough investigation and hope that it properly addresses issues raised by the Ian Paterson case such as the regulation of private healthcare as well as what further actions may be needed to strengthen the inspection regime and improve patient safety.’