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Lawyer calls for more regulation for private healthcare following Panorama investigation

Following tonight's Panorama, entitled How Safe is Your Operation, lawyer Suzanne White calls for greater regulation for private hospitals as more NHS patients are referred to private clinics

Posted on 16 October 2017

In tonight's programme Suzanne, who is interviewed for the programme by reporter Darragh MacIntyre, describes the circumstances around a claim on behalf of her her 62-year-old client who received inappropriate treatment for prostate cancer.

The man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, received a substantial settlement against the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust after being provided with inappropriate treatment for his prostate cancer by the trust and a doctor at a private hospital which he had been referred to by the NHS.

Thousands of NHS patients are now being sent to private hospitals to receive treatment as pressure on NHS resources intensifies.

In the programme Suzanne explains how her client visited his GP to request a prostate test when he was 56 years old. Tests showed that his PSA levels were raised (an indicator for prostate cancer) and he was referred to his local urology clinic. Investigations undertaken at the clinic showed a probable T2 cancer in his prostate gland.

Different treatment options were discussed with him, including his preferred choice radiotherapy. However, another treatment, High Intensity Focussed Ultrasound (HIFU), was also mentioned and he saw Mr Paul Miller, a consultant urologist employed by the trust at the time.

Mr Miller advised the man that should he opt for HIFU as he would be able to return to work almost immediately. He was not told about any possible side-effects, or that he may have to undergo hormonal treatment following HIFU.

He accepted Mr Miller’s advice and in February 2006 his care was transferred to Mr Miller’s private practice where he underwent HIFU. Following the treatment, his PSA levels continued to rise. He was put on Casodex, a hormonal therapy drug and asked to return for regular checks.

His PSA levels continued to fluctuate and he remained on hormonal therapy intermittently for around eight years. During this period he suffered severe side effects from the hormonal treatment which included headaches, irritability, weight gain, breast enlargement and muscle loss.

In August 2014 the man was contacted by the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust and informed of an investigation into Mr Paul Miller. He subsequently attended the urology clinic and following a review of his case by a different consultant (and two further painful biopsies), he was offered a course of radiotherapy. He has not required the use of hormonal treatment since receiving radiotherapy.

According to Suzanne, her client was told by the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust that the HIFU treatment Mr Miller had recommended to him was inappropriate for a patient with the high level of PSA he had presented with.

Suzanne brought a claim against the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust on behalf of the man arguing that the trust had breached its duty of care towards her client.

The claim included a failure to advise him with reasonable skill and care, including failing to realise that he was not a suitable candidate for HIFU, failing to explain the experimental nature of the treatment and its potential side-effects.

There was also a failure to explain the potential need for hormonal therapy following HIFU, and the associated side-effects of this treatment.

Suzanne further argued that had her client undergone hormonal and radiotherapy in 2006 it was likely that his prostate cancer would have been cured at that stage.

The Trust settled the claim with a full admission of liability.

In the Panorama interview Suzanne White, a former radiographer for the NHS and now a partner in the medical negligence team at Leigh Day, said that people expect private hospitals to be the gold standard of care and are surprised that there are fewer regulations governing private hospitals and those who work within them than in the NHS.

She said: “Increasingly we are seeing the NHS picking up the pieces and the costs for privately run healthcare. Much more needs to be done to ensure that private healthcare is as regulated as the NHS and that it is held accountable when things go wrong.”