Safety in private healthcare

19 October 2017

The BBC Panorama documentary “How safe is your operation?” which aired on 16 October 2017, identified worrying accounts of patients injured through private medical treatment.

Increasingly people receive private healthcare, by personal choice or because their NHS funded treatment is undertaken at a private hospital in order to reduce waiting times.  Private treatment can be convenient and capable of delivering an excellent standard of care.  However, as lawyers specialising in medical negligence, we continue to see instances of patients injured in the course of treatment provided by private consultants and in private hospitals.  

Earlier this year, in the wake of the scandal surrounding convicted surgeon Ian Paterson, the Royal College of Surgeons released an open letter making a number of important recommendations to improve safety in private medical treatment.  They advocated for an “equal focus on patient safety both in the private and public sector” and suggested that the reporting of serious injuries and unexpected deaths in private healthcare should be similar to that in the NHS. 

The Royal College of Surgeons also raised concern that cosmetic surgery continues to be under-regulated and recommended that

the General Medical Council (which regulates doctors) should have the power to annotate the medical register in order to identify  which surgeons are qualified to undertake cosmetic surgery.

These are important recommendations which, if fully implemented, would help members of the public to make more informed choices before going ahead with private treatment. 

Equally important for affected patients is the ability to seek redress if something goes seriously wrong.  It is usually possible to bring a legal claim for compensation if someone is injured or dies as a result of negligent medical treatment provided in the private sector.   One of the first steps in this process involves establishing who is legally responsible for the injury (for example, the private doctor who provided the treatment, the hospital where it was performed or possibly the funding organisation) and, therefore, it is important to obtain specialist legal advice at the outset. 

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