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Mr Michael Walsh, an Orthopaedic surgeon, is subject to multiple negligence claims in relation to his practice at Spire Healthcare and Nuffield Health Leeds. These recent cases point to issues around transparency and patient safety in the private health sector.

Our client, Sarah (not her real name), is one of many who have suffered serious consequences due to the use of outdated techniques and unnecessary operations performed by Mr Michael Walsh. The Guardian note that almost 200 patients treated by Mr Michael Walsh at Spire Healthcare were recalled and it is believed almost 50 may have been harmed. Spire has offered its “sincere apologies to those patients who have been affected by the treatment they received from Mr Walsh” and he has since retired and no longer practices as a surgeon.

Our client’s Story

Sarah was in a car crash in July 2016 and suffered, among other injuries, a dislocated shoulder. Following treatment for her injuries, she continued to be in pain and required surgery to improve her shoulder function. She attended Nuffield Health Leeds in December 2017, where she was treated by Mr Michael Walsh.

“He seemed plausible and persuasive. He was older, which I found reassuring, and he talked about how he had a wealth of experience in fixing the type of injury I had. Six weeks later he operated on me.”

Sarah was to undergo surgery to reconstruct her AC joint and ligament. She expected this surgery to be performed at Nuffield Health Leeds where she had seen Mr Michael Walsh and where her insurance covered the procedure.  However, she was informed that no spaces were available at Nuffield until much later in the year so she would need to have it at the Leeds Spire Hospital. Therefore, despite preferring Nuffield, Sarah followed Mr Michael Walsh’s advice and sought special dispensation from her insurers. The surgery duly went ahead in February 2018 at Leeds Spire Hospital.

Since having this operation Sarah has had a difficult recovery and has had to have revision surgery to fix the problems caused by Mr Michael Walsh’s outdated technique. Sarah still suffers from the consequences of Mr Michael Walsh’s treatment today.

“I now understand that he performed the wrong operation. That’s because an independent surgeon Spire asked to review a number of Walsh’s patients found that I had had ‘a failed procedure’, which had left me with a ‘cosmetic deformity’. I should have had a full prosthetic ligament replacement, not the outdated and, I’m told, inappropriate surgery which he did. It didn’t fix my problems. From what I know now, it was never going to work.

“I now have a pronounced lump on my left clavicle – my collarbone – near the top of my left arm. It’s more prominent than it should be, which makes me self-conscious and uncomfortable. I’m less able to do sport and exercise such as horse riding, which I used to really enjoy because I don’t have full strength in my left arm. I wasn’t able to work for a while after I later had remedial surgery, which was the operation I should have had with Mr Walsh. I get pain, niggles and clicks in my left shoulder, so I get a reminder every day of Mr Walsh and the wrong surgery. I feel I’m paying the price for a procedure that should never have been done.”

Symptomatic of Wider Issues

A lack of communication and transparency in private hospitals is putting patients at risk, Sarah felt she should have been told more about Mr Michael Walsh’s track record in order to make an informed decision about her care.

“Private hospitals should be more upfront in the information they give patients about the surgeon. There should be some way that people considering having surgery can easily find out what a surgeon’s track record is, their areas of expertise, and if they are up to date with the latest professional developments in their field. Trust in your surgeon’s experience and the treatment they’re recommending is vital. That would help patients choose the right surgeon.”

Cases such as Sarah’s are symptomatic of greater issues within the private healthcare sector. They have led to calls for an inquiry into how private surgeons work, given the financial incentive they face to recommend and perform operations and a lack of transparency between hospitals.

Spire suspended Mr Michael Walsh in April 2018 when they began investigating treatment he had provided. He was later barred from doing any more operations at Spire and the medical director referred him to the GMC. The medical regulator is investigating complaints about him. This intervention, unfortunately, came too late for Sarah and others like her.

Tamlin Bolton, Solicitor at Pryers commented as follows:

“Where does the onus lie? It cannot be solely with patients. There must be transparency in healthcare and there must be communication in both the public and private sector. Mr Walsh’s suspension and subsequent GMC referral was surely prompted by some third-party oversight or monitoring at Spire. Private healthcare providers like Spire or Nuffield are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, so how do we, as patients, begin to understand the threshold for intervention, suspension and Regulatory referral? I suspect if we are ever privy to a timeline of claims against Mr Walsh that the data will suggest earlier opportunities, at which intervention from the Regulator and the Private Healthcare providers, may have prevented other patients suffering as a result of his care.”

The Guardian received a comment from the chief executive of the patient safety charity Action against Medical Accidents, “It’s very disturbing to hear of so many patients who appear to have been harmed by this surgeon (…) It suggests that the problems with patient safety and supervising surgeons there may have been more systematic than a one-off as had been suggested.”

Mr Michael Walsh is yet another example of an unchecked surgeon harming patients in the private health sector. The Paterson Inquiry recently reported that the lack of transparency in reporting activity and outcomes by private hospitals helped Ian Paterson to operate unchecked for years, causing serious harm to thousands of patients. Urgent action is now needed to improve reporting by private hospitals to bring them in line with standards in the NHS.

It is important the standard of patient safety that private hospitals are held to is equal to that of the NHS. They have a duty to ensure that surgeons who have been suspended from or are under investigation at their own hospital are not able to easily reschedule operations at other private hospital and continue to harm patients. It is important that patients have a clear understanding of the track record of the surgeons operating on them. Transparency should not be clouded by a focus on the bottom line; profit should not be able to rise above the importance of patient safety, especially in an industry that should be wholly committed to improving health.

Here at Pryers we are working towards getting Sarah, and others like her, the compensation they deserve for the harm they have suffered under Mr Walsh’s knife.

A photography of Alice Willoughby, a paralegal at Pryers Solicitors

By Alice Willoughby,
Clinical Negligence Paralegal

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