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Questions about surgeons

Questions about surgeons answered for patients, including the College's involvement with surgeons and its role in the surgical profession.

How can I find/can you recommend a surgeon?

The Royal College of Surgeons of England is responsible for the training and examination of surgeons, and supports surgical research in the UK. It is not involved in the licensing or registering of surgeons to practise and so does not maintain lists of individuals or a register in this way. The College is therefore unable to recommend individual surgeons to patients. It is strongly advised that patients always seek referral through general practitioners, regardless of whether they are seeking NHS or private treatment.

The General Medical Council’s (GMC) Good Medical Practice states:

"Doctors practising in most specialties should usually accept patients only with a referral from a general practitioner or other appropriate health care professional. However, in some areas of practice, for example, accident and emergency, genito-urinary medicine, contraception and abortion services and refraction, there may be good reasons for specialists to accept patients without a referral. Similarly, occupational health physicians, police surgeons and other doctors with dual responsibilities may accept patients for assessment or screening without a referral”.

See GMC website for further information.

You can also visit the Dr Foster website. Dr Foster, a service set up in collaboration with the Department of Health, aims to give information about local NHS and private healthcare services available and to help explain what choices patients have and how best to use them.

See also I would like private surgical treatment. Where can I find out further information?

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How do I found out who the members of the Surgical Team are?

The BMA has produced a guide to the members of the surgical team which you can find on their website.

How can I find out if my surgeon is properly qualified?

The General Medical Council (GMC) holds the central registers of doctors’ qualifications. The medical register shows who is properly qualified to practise medicine. The specialist register shows doctors who have completed specialist training, including surgical training. Doctors must be included in this to hold consultant posts in the NHS.

To contact the GMC with queries about surgeons, telephone 020 7580 7642. You may also like to visit the GMC website, particularly the 'registration' and 'contact us' sections. You can now also search the Medical Register online.

The GMC is also responsible for dealing with disciplinary matters concerning surgeons. However, attempts should be made to deal with complaints locally first and there is an established complaints procedure which should be followed.

For information about surgical qualifications (taken after qualifying as a doctor) see What are the usual qualifications for a surgeon?

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Can you give me details about a particular surgeon, or give me a list of surgeons in a particular specialty?

The Royal College of Surgeons of England is responsible for the training and examination of surgeons, and supports surgical research in the UK. It is not involved in the licensing or registering of surgeons to practise and so does not maintain lists of individuals or a register in this way. It is strongly advised that patients always seek referral through general practitioners, regardless of whether they are seeking NHS or private treatment.

The GMC holds the medical register, which lists those doctors (this includes surgeons) who are qualified to practice in the UK, and the specialist register, which gives details of doctors' specialist training (doctors must be included in this to hold consultant posts in the NHS).

Please see the question above, How can I find out if my surgeon is properly qualified? for GMC contact details.

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What are the surgical specialties?

There are nine surgical specialties. After completing basic surgical training, surgeons can specialise in one of the following areas:

  • Cardiothoracic surgery (heart, chest, lungs)
  • General surgery (includes many sub specialties such as coloproctology (surgery of the colon (intestine)), gastro-intestinal (sometimes referred to as GI) surgery, vascular surgery (relating to or supplied with blood vessels) and breast surgery)
  • Neurosurgery (treatment of the brain and spinal cord)
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery (mouth, face, jaw and related structures (for which surgeons are both medically and dentally qualified))
  • Otolayrngology (ear, nose and throat surgery (often referred to as ENT surgery)
  • Paediatric surgery (children’s surgery)
  • Plastic or reconstructive surgery (dealing with the reconstruction of deformed or damaged parts of the body (including the replacement of parts of the body that have been lost). Surgery performed simply to improve appearance is called cosmetic surgery)
  • Trauma and orthopaedic surgery physical wounds or injuries such as fracture or blows and correcting disease or damage to bones and joints)
  • Urology (study and treatment of diseases in the urinary tract (bladder, kidneys etc)

There are various surgical procedures and techniques (eg laparascopic, keyhole, microsurgery, endoscopic, etc) which are used by surgeons in the various specialties.

Members within the various surgical specialties are often also members of an association or society specific to that specialty. In some cases the association or society may be able to offer help and advice to patients.

A list of the surgical associations and societies covering the various specialties.

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How can I get a second opinion?

Patients seeking a second opinion should ask for a further referral from their general practitioner (GP). The GP should write to the hospital to request a consultation with a different surgeon.

See also the BBC health information pages and the British Medical Association for guidance on requesting a second opinion.

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I am not happy with treatment I have received. How can I make a complaint against a surgeon?

Many NHS hospitals also have Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS), which can offer advice on what to do if you want to make a complaint.

Some areas also have Community Health Councils (the number is listed in the phonebook), which can advise how to make a complaint.

NHS Treatment

All hospitals and hospital Trusts have established in-house complaints procedures and should be contacted as a first step towards resolving your complaint. The hospital may offer to bring in conciliation serves to help resolve the complaint.

If you are still unhappy you can ask for an independent review to take place. If your complaint is still not resolved to your satisfaction you should contact the health service commissioner (the Trust’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service or your local Community Health Council will be able to advise how to do this).

The regulatory body for doctors, The General Medical Council (GMC), deals with professional complaints concerning surgeons.

In extreme cases patients may wish to pursue legal action. The Charity Action for Victims (Tel: 020 8686 8333) can put you in touch with a solicitor with medical negligence expertise. The hospital complaints procedure should always be the first step.

Further details about complaints procedures can be found here.

Private Treatment

All hospitals and clinics are likely to have their own complaints procedure. Private hospitals that belong to the Independent Healthcare Association (IHA) (Tel: 020 7793 4620) should follow its code of practice. The IHA can offer patients advise on the complaints process.

If the hospital is not an IHA member, complaints can be made to the National Care Standards Commission (Tel: 020 7239 0300). See also the BBC health information pages. You may also like to contact the National Care Standards Commission, a new independent public body set-up to regulate social care and private and voluntary health care services.

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How can I access survival rates for certain types of surgery?

The rates of survival for patients who have had certain types of heart surgery at different surgical units across the UK can be found on the heart surgery website. This website also includes data on the proportion of operations performed by individual cardiac surgeons together with survival rates. Survival rates have not yet been published for other types of surgery.

Dr Foster, a service set-up in collaboration with the Department of Health, gives information about the availability and performance of local NHS and private healthcare services. Dr Foster aims to help explain what choices you have and how best to use them.

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Why are surgeons in the UK called Mr or Miss or Mrs, rather than Dr?

In most other parts of the world all medical practitioners, physicians and surgeons alike, are referred to as 'Dr' whereas in the UK surgeons are usually referred to as Mr, Miss or Mrs. This is because, from the Middle Ages physicians had to embark on formal university training to gain possession of a degree in medicine before they could enter practice. The possession of this degree, a doctorate, entitled them to the title of ‘Doctor of Medicine’ or Doctor.

The training of surgeons until the mid-19th century was different. They did not have to go to university to gain a degree; instead they usually served on apprenticeship to a surgeon. Afterwards they took an examination. In London, after 1745, this was conducted by the Surgeons' Company and after 1800 by The Royal College of Surgeons. If successful they were awarded a diploma, not a degree, therefore they were unable to call themselves 'Doctor', and stayed instead with the title 'Mr'.

Outside London and the largest cities the surgeon served an apprenticeship like many other tradesmen, but did not necessarily take any examination. Today all medical practitioners, whether physicians or surgeons have to undertake training at medical school to obtain a qualifying degree. Thereafter a further period of postgraduate study and training through junior posts is required before full consultant surgeon status is achieved. Thus the tradition of a surgeon being referred to as ‘Mr/Miss/Mrs’ has continued, meaning that in effect a person starts as ‘Mr/Miss/Mrs’, becomes a ‘Dr’ and then goes back to being a ‘Mr’; ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ again!

More information about the history of surgery and the College.

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What are the usual qualifications for a surgeon?

All surgeons must first qualify as doctors, so they will have a basic medical degree which includes the principles of medicine and surgery. The title of this degree varies according to the university attended. Examples are MB or BM (Bachelor of Medicine) and BChir, ChB or BS (Bachelor of Surgery).

Surgeons then go on to do several years of further training in surgical specialities (for more information, see The Training of Surgeons and 'Who’s Who: a Guide to Hospital Surgical Staff'. During this time they acquire a specific surgical qualification, such as MRCS (Membership of The Royal College of Surgeons) or, previously, FRCS (Fellowship of The Royal College of Surgeons).

Those who wish to practise as consultants must also obtain the Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST). The letters after a surgeon’s name depends on the college granting the qualification, eg FRCS or FRCS(Eng) indicates fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England; FRCS(Ed) or FRCS(Glasg) indicate fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh or Glasgow. FRCSI indicates a Fellow of The Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. Some surgeons obtain further degrees and diplomas in research or in specialist areas such as orthopaedics or ophthalmology.

Some surgeons only use the highest of their qualifications (eg FRCS) in their correspondence or on their nameplates, rather than listing all the lesser degrees as well.

Overseas-trained surgeons may have different letters after their name depending on the institutions in which they qualified. Before working as a surgeon in the UK, they must register with the General Medical Council and satisfy the UK authorities that their qualifications and experience are appropriate for the work they intend to undertake.

If you would like to know your surgeon’s qualifications, do not be afraid to ask. You can also find out their details through the General Medical Council (tel: 0845 357 3456). As explained in 'Who’s Who?: A Guide to Hospital Surgical Staff', the consultant leads and supervises a team of surgeons who are all qualified doctors but with different levels of training and expertise.

The Royal College of General Practitioners provide a useful list of abbreviations commonly used in medical notes.

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Where can I find information about becoming a surgeon?

Advice for those wishing to pursue a career in surgery.

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