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If A Private Doctor Absconds...Who Foots The Bill?

In 2011 the The Birkdale Clinic, in Crosby, advertised on the popular discount website that cosmetic surgery such as breast augmentation could be purchased for £1,999 instead of £5,000.

On the face of it this sounded like a bargain, and who of us wouldn’t be drawn in at the chance of saving a few (thousand) pounds. But then came the prices also meant in many circumstances a discount service.
Working at The Birkdale Clinic until 2011 was Dr Olufemi Adeyinka Adeogba. If you undertake a simple google search of this doctor you will find an alarming number of hits from former patients left devastated with pain and severe injuries after going under the knife.  
In December 2011 Dr Adeogba was investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC) as, not surprisingly, his fitness to practise had been called into question. Dr Adeogba was investigated on the grounds of misconduct, including failing to adequately consent patients to surgery, causing burns, performing inappropriate surgical procedures and failing to manage patients' expectations. These findings related to both breast and nose surgery.
The GMC found that given the seriousness of Dr Adeogba’s misconduct he posed a continuing risk to patients. It was determined that it was necessary for the protection of members of the public and in the public interest for Dr Adeogba’s registration to be suspended immediately and he has now been dismissed from the profession.
It was noted at the GMC hearing that Dr Adeogba was neither present nor represented at the hearing.
Dr Adeogba has proved extremely difficult to trace, enquires have been made in both the UK and Germany and it is now hoped that his insurers have been traced.
There is an Act dating all the way back to 1930 that may sometimes assist. If Mr. Adegoba were to be made bankrupt then the Third Parties (Rights Against Insurers) Act 1930 could be relied upon. This act allows claimants who have obtained judgment against a defendant to pursue the insurer directly, rather than the doctor themselves. This sounds straightforward but the Act is criticised because it only allows recovery if the defendant is bankrupt and if the insurer would have had to indemnify the insured. So, for example, if the doctor has not reported the incident to his insurer, a likely breach of the contract of insurance, then the insurer would not have to pay out on any judgment. In 2010 a new act received royal assent. The Third Party (Rights Against Insurers) Act 2010 would allow a claimant to bring proceedings against an insurer directly without first obtaining judgment against the defendant. But the 2010 Act is not yet in force and it is unclear when, or if, it will be brought into force.  
If Dr. Adeogba's insurers cannot be traced where does this leave patients who have received negligent treatment under his care?  
The stance usually taken by private clinics is that the surgery performed by private doctor amounts to a contract between the patient and that surgeon, the clinic themselves have no ongoing obligation to be liable for any negligent treatment performed at their clinic. Before any surgery a patient should always request a copy of the surgeon’s professional indemnity insurance and a copy of the contract between the surgeon and the clinic.  

If a claim cannot be brought against Dr. Adeogba himself, his insurers directly or the clinic, who can the patient then pursue?
If a patient paid for their operation by credit card they may be able to pursue a claim under the Consumer Credit Act. The item of service bought must have cost over £100 and not more than £30,000. In respect of purchases made through agents e.g. GroupOn, then it is arguable that the act should still apply and you should still be able to make a claim against the credit card provider. But what sense of justice would this give to a patient....that the surgeon has essentially got away with it and someone else has footed the bill for his negligence.
We are hopeful that the insurers for Dr Adeogba have now been traced, but his case does highlight the difficulties patients have in pursing actions against private clinicians.

Jennifer Crompton is a Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Merseyside (Waterloo).

Slater and Gordon offer a free consultation for victims of clinical negligence and/or medical mistakes. Call us 24 hours 7 days a week on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we'll be happy to help.

We can also assist if you think you may have a claim for Cosmetic Surgery Compensation

Slater and Gordon are a leading Clinical Negligence Law Firm with over 1,200 staff in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, Sheffield, Halifax, Newcastle, Wakefield, Cambridge; and meeting rooms where you can meet with a Clinical Negligence Solicitor in Bramhall, Cheshire.