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Ian Paterson: what happens now?

Ian Paterson is a name now widely associated with the very worst side of medical malpractice. He performed over 1,000 unnecessary operations - predominantly on female patients - in NHS and private settings.

In February 2020, an independent inquiry led by the Bishop of Norwich blamed a “culture of avoidance and denial” in which managing professionals in the healthcare setting showed a “wilful blindness” to the “shocking” events taking place, looking “for patterns that reassure rather than disturb”.

Paterson was able to conceal that the procedures he recommended were damaging by withholding vital information from patients. In some cases, patients were not aware the operations were unnecessary - in others, they did not know they were at an increased risk of their cancer returning.

The inquiry made 15 recommendations regarding the operation and management of NHS and private sector care. The Government has accepted many, although some are subject to further consultations - these include the kinds of indemnity available to doctors.

The Government responded to the inquiry in December 2021, addressing the three main areas of investigation to ensure patient safety and prevent such events from recurring. They are:

  • Initial consultations with clinicians and the information patients receive during their treatment to ensure the highest standard of care.

  • Clinicians' fitness to practise.

  • Post-treatment scrutiny of clinicians’ outcomes - includes pathways for raising concern and rapid action in cases where something goes wrong.

It is accepted that drastic changes are required - indeed, given the incidents in question occurred between 1997 and 2001, there has certainly been progress in this area.

The Statutory Duty of Candour, consenting practices following Montgomery, and a movement towards breaking down the so-called ‘culture of blame’ have all contributed towards a shift in the way we do things - along with greater participation in Multidisciplinary teams (MDTs). Still, there is much more to be done.

The NHS and private sector will be instrumental in this change, steering the Government to implement measures that keep patients safe alongside guaranteeing the top standard of care for all who receive it.

We have yet to see what the Government’s indemnity reforms will look like in practice, but discretionary indemnity will likely become a thing of the past. Contractual based cover for consultants is the future, and Practition is here to help. Get in touch to learn more about our services.

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