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Transparency calls for private hospitals after ‘abhorrent’ Paterson case

Surgeons have today called for a review of safety standards and better data transparency in the private sector to tackle poor practice and rogue doctors.

In an open letter penned by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), the health group stated that the “abhorrent” actions of private surgeon Ian Paterson mean that a serious review needed to be conducted of the private sector.

Paterson was found guilty last month of carrying out unnecessary, life-changing operations on 17 patients for reasons that are still unclear. He will be sentenced in May.

The RCS state that while there is no evidence of care being less safe in private surgeries, there are less transparent methods for reporting on safety incidents.

The letter calls for private sector doctors to report similar patient safety data to the NHS including data on unexpected deaths, near misses and serious injuries.

It also states that private surgeries should be better at taking part in clinical audits, and that cosmetic surgery – which happens almost exclusively in private sector surgeries – should be better regulated.

Miss Clare Marx, president of the RCS, said: “Ian Paterson wilfully abused the trust placed in him by patients at their most vulnerable. His actions and behaviour were appalling and we must do everything in our power to prevent such a violation being repeated.”

Despite this, Marx emphasised that the overwhelming majority of doctors work with diligence and commitment, often under great pressure and are motivated to understand and meet the needs of their patients as best they can.

“Modern day medical practice – which includes annual appraisals as part of revalidation and rules around team decision-making and patient consent – means rogue doctors are more likely to be identified at an early stage and remedial action initiated,” she added.

“That said, there are still a number of areas which require urgent improvements to protect patients from harm. Robust regulation remains an important way of protecting the public.”

The RCS president stated that patient safety initiatives needed a strong focus on the private sector as well as the NHS, particularly in the collection of patient safety data. 

“We are therefore calling for a review of the sector to look at how safety standards and data transparency can improve,” she added. “Similarly, regulation is not keeping pace with the booming industry of cosmetic surgery, which also largely takes place in the private sector

“We continue to call for the General Medical Council to be given powers to annotate the medical register with details of which surgeons are qualified to undertake cosmetic surgery.” 

However, Fiona Booth, chief executive of the Association of Independent Healthcare Organisations (AIHO) – who represent private hospitals in England – said that private surgeries were already regulated.

“The independent sector is already regulated and inspected by the CQC in the same way as NHS hospitals to ensure patient safety and a high quality of care is delivered,” she said.

“AIHO are working with national bodies to look at ways in which the sector can be further involved in the collection of best data on clinical standards.”

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