Warning over foreign surgeons

Last updated at 17:00 13 May 2004

Patients could be subjected to inferior medical care under Government plans to employ overseas doctors, a group of NHS orthopaedic surgeons have warned.

They are concerned that the drive to reduce waiting lists could be compromised with operations performed by "inexperienced surgeons" at special private centres.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, the doctors say that surgeons from overseas are not forced to submit to the same stringent vetting procedures as NHS consultants.

The surgeons' fears are in response to the Department of Health's award of temporary contracts to overseas surgeons to work in Independent Sector Treatment Centres (ISTCs).

NHS inquiry

A NHS inquiry is ongoing over a surgeon brought in from South Africa to perform orthopaedic operations after two patients had to undergo corrective surgery following treatment.

The unnamed surgeon is being investigated by Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust over concerns about the quality of five hip replacement operations carried out at the Royal Hospital Haslar in Gosport.

The letter signed by 43 surgeons working in the West Country claims "there is extensive evidence that hip replacements performed by inexperienced surgeons have poorer results and are more than 11 times more likely to fail than those done by an experienced surgeon".

It adds the "whole ISTC initiative appears to be driven by political expediency to reduce the waiting lists, without regard to the quality of surgery and the cost to patients".

Quality checks

Clare Marx, of the British Orthopaedic Authority, said: "Everybody is worried because we don't know anything about these doctors. Why would any hardworking surgeon want to go to another country?"

The Department of Health denied that overseas surgeons would not be forced to undergo the same quality checks as in Britain.

A spokesman said: "The Government is committed to reducing waiting times now, which is why we are using the independent sector to help provide additional capacity that is simply not available in the NHS."

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