Rebecca Brown discusses the Ian Paterson independent inquiry and asks if it is Mid Staffordshire all over again?
In January 2013 it was announced that there would be an independent inquiry about breast care services at Solihull Hospital and in particular about the surgical procedures carried out by Mr Ian Paterson.
This was a very much welcomed announcement by those who have had unnecessary or negligent procedures carried out by Mr Paterson. There have long been concerns by patients who were recalled by the hospital about how such negligence and poor treatment could go on in such a large breast unit. After all Mr Paterson did not work in this unit alone. The unit was made up of other breast surgeons, breast nurses, radiologists and oncologist who worked together in treating patients.
Similarly Mr Paterson practised privately from the Spire Parkway Hospital, where again treatment was often combined with treatment provided by other specialities.
We have been made aware that concerns were raised about Mr Paterson's practices as early as 2004 and that in 2007 he gave an undertaking not to perform any more Cleavage Sparing Mastectomies, yet he was not suspended from practice until late 2011.
My colleagues and I who are representing the patients who have had unnecessary and negligent surgeries are incredibly concerned that the situation at Solihull Breast Care Unit and at the Spire Parkway very much mirrors that which was found at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, which has also been subject to a very recent public enquiry. The findings of this inquiry were that a defensive culture existed at Mid Staffordshire which preferred secrecy to openness. At Mid Staffordshire there was a culture of protecting the Trust’s reputation rather than investigating and learning from patient errors. The Trust was very heavily criticised for failing to promote patient safety.
I fear that this was exactly what was going on at Solihull Hospital. I believe that the culture at the hospital was one of defending its reputation rather than promoting patient safety. I also believe that because Mr Paterson had been a popular and influential member of staff previously there was reluctance to investigate his poor practices further and there was also a situation where members of staff at the Heart of England NHS Trust were more interested in protecting Mr Paterson's reputation than protecting the patients in his care. I am aware that there were concerns raised about Mr Paterson's practices in 2004, yet these were not acted upon. The reason why is not known, but I strongly suspect it was because there was a reluctance for staff to speak up against Mr Paterson, for whatever reason. If this is the case it is quite unbelievable given that patient safety was at risk.
It will be a long time before Sir Ian Kennedy finishes his investigations and reports on his findings but before then I am sure this along with the criminal proceedings against Mr Paterson and the GMC hearing will reveal more shocking evidence about the extent of the ignorance at Solihull Hospital. Let’s hope that the other Trusts around the UK learn something from the Mid Staffordshire inquiry so this terrible situation does not occur anywhere else.