Government reinforces private patients’ safety

By Robin Stride

The Government has reported ‘good progress’ towards safer practices affecting independent practitioners, hospitals and patients in the wake of the inquiry into disgraced former surgeon Ian Paterson.

In a statement, given alongside an update on developments following recommendations from the former Bishop of Norwich’s inquiry into the affair, junior health minister Maria Caulfield highlighted some of the most important developments.

Patient-centred information

She said: ‘Patients now have more access to information relevant to their treatment than they did during Ian Paterson’s time practising. 

‘This includes access to information about the performance of consultants working for independent-sector healthcare providers and specialties in the NHS. 

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‘These continue to be added to, so patients will have more, and better, access to independent information before choosing a consultant. 

‘NHS England (NHSE) will work with the professions so that meaningful consultant-level information on the numbers and types of procedures performed should be made publicly available. 

‘If patients choose to be treated in the independent sector, there is now more information about what to expect, with further information to be made available over the coming year.

‘Patients now have the right to access their treatment records and clinicians are aware of the need to write to patients directly following a consultation or treatment, rather than only writing to their GP. 

‘This information gives patients a record of their condition and test results to reflect on or to seek a second opinion, if required. 

‘This is re-inforced by ensuring patients get the time they need to consider treatment options and have access to a range of new resources to help them consider their options; options that patients will also be able to discuss with medical professionals who are equipped to handle these conversations.’

Making challenge heard

The former nurse, who is under-secretary of state for mental health and women’s health strategy, said: ‘Doctors across more specialties now have independent data on their practice available and will be required to use this as part of their appraisal and revalidation processes. This will help to identify issues and fix them. 

‘Staff in the health system also have more opportunities to make their voices heard about a patient’s care, including through clarified guidance and assessment of multidisciplinary team use as a forum.’

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has updated its guidance on complaints processes in early 2022 and it is now easier for patients to raise concerns about treatment and to access independent resolution of their complaint if unsatisfied with the provider’s handling. 

NHSE has introduced measures to advance safety and the response to harm, while the Government has appointed the first ever Patient Safety Commissioner for England, Dr Henrietta Hughes.

Ensuring accountability

Ms Caulfield said the CQC published its new single assessment framework in July 2022,  setting out what good care looks like, and the National Quality Board issued national guidance on System Quality Groups, setting out quality governance requirements in integrated care systems. 

‘Alongside this, we have seen significant culture change in the independent sector, now leaving no doubt that independent providers must take responsibility for maintaining high standards of care in their facilities, irrespective of how the medical professionals involved are engaged by them through employment or practising privileges,’ Ms Caulfield said. 

‘This has been supported by Independent Healthcare Providers Network’s refresh of the Medical Practitioners Assurance Frame­work in September 2022. NHS Resolution launched new exclusion guidance in April 2022.’ 

Putting things right

The minister added: ‘Patients who are impacted by potential issues with their care will be reviewed through recall processes which are now better informed of how to put patients at the centre of their focus. The new national recall framework was published in June 2022 to facilitate this.

‘Patients will continue to receive apologies from healthcare professionals and providers for potential issues with their care when appropriate. 

‘Enhanced training and resources are now available to clinicians to ensure these apologies are delivered effectively and meaningfully.’