The Department of Health has announced the launch of an independent inquiry into the circumstances and practices surrounding the activity of convicted breast surgeon Ian Paterson.
Ian Paterson was a consultant breast surgeon who was convicted in April this year of 17 counts of wounding patients with intent and sentenced to an initial jail term of 15 years, which was then considered too lenient and increased to 20 years. The criminal trial heard that Paterson exaggerated or invented cancer risks and carried out unnecessary operations on patients.
The inquiry will be led by the Bishop of Norwich, the Right Reverend Graham James, who confirmed that the concerns of former patients of Ian Paterson and their families and representatives will inform the inquiry. Current thinking is that the inquiry will consider:
- responsibility for the quality of care in the independent sector;
- appraisal and ensuring validation of staff in the independent sector;
- the safety of multi-disciplinary working;
- information sharing, reporting of activity and raising concerns between the independent sector and the NHS;
- the role of insurers of independent healthcare providers;
- arrangements for medical indemnity cover for clinicians in the independent sector.
The Department of Health's decision to make the inquiry "non-statutory" means that there will be no fixed process, no legislative powers to compel participants to give witness or documentary evidence, and it is unclear to what extent the inquiry's information gathering process or conclusions will be made public. What we do know is that the inquiry will convene in January 2018 and is expected to report in summer 2019, with more details regarding scope and procedure expected at a future date.
Philip Dunne, the Minister of State for Health, said that the inquiry was "the right way forward to ensure that all aspects of this case are brought to light and lessons learned so we can better protect patients in the future." We expect that the findings of the inquiry will have a significant impact on the healthcare regulatory infrastructure, and could force radical change on indemnity requirements, particularly for individual practitioners.