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Private Healthcare: Is It Really Better Than NHS

I have just settled a couple of cases recently where patients underwent knee surgery privately and things went wrong.

One was able to use her private health scheme but the other had to dig deep into her savings in the hope of getting better treatment. Both assumed that by paying they would get better treatment than on the NHS. Both in fact ended up worse off (and not just financially).

The experience of private treatment is more pleasant than going to NHS hospitals. You can arrange an appointment at the time that suits you. The waits are shorter. The food is better. Perhaps most important the infection rates in private hospitals are lower. And you get to see a Consultant, probably quite specialist in your particular treatment. But there is no guarantee that by paying you will get better medical treatment.

In one case a very senior knee surgeon carried out a procedure no reasonable surgeon would have done, entirely removing a young woman’s kneecap (a patellectomy). Perhaps the problem was that he was too senior – he did something which was not uncommon 20 years ago but should not be done now. (He may also be a little arrogant – this is not the first time I have recovered high levels of damages off him and in both cases his advice was cavalier.) His antiquated technique left a high-achieving sportswoman unable to ski, swim or play team sports.

In the other a surgeon carried out the wrong sort of knee replacement on a 70 year old woman but also put in the prosthesis at the wrong angle. She struggled to walk for 18 months, needed a second operation and ended up significantly disabled. The problem was that his specialism was the wrong sort of operation for this woman: he did what he was confident to do when he should have referred her to someone else for a different procedure.

Without wishing to be cynical there is of course a temptation for a surgeon to do what he can do and get paid rather than generate work for a colleague.  This is not to say that you are likely to get poor care whether you go NHS or private. Most of our medical care is excellent. But there are dangers in assuming that just because it costs you money you are getting your money’s worth.

Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049, fill in our short online claim form or email and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.