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  • My thoughts on the Paterson Inquiry: a blog from a scrub theatre nurse

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    Summary

    I recently wrote a blog for the hub on my experience as a theatre scrub nurse in private healthcare, and what happened to me when I reported a surgeon for dropping an instrument on the floor and reusing it without sterilising it. Following the Paterson Inquiry, I see many similarities in the behaviour and the culture of surgeons and staff in operating theatres. I'd like to share my thoughts.

    Content

    "There must be multidisciplinary teams working in all private hospitals – it’s standard in the NHS but almost non-existent in the private sector. And the Care Quality Commission must be provided with the same performance data, in the same format from the private sector as it demands of the NHS in order to create a clear and consistent picture of patient safety across the board.” [Linda Miliband, a lawyer at Thompsons representing 650 of Paterson's victims].

    It makes me shudder to think that until now, there are surgeons who think they are above the law and the staff are just there to do their bidding and cover up their failings!

    In the Paterson case, we question why it took so long. If women are having a skin sparing mastectomy for breast cancer, why would they worry about their cleavage? Were they convinced that this was important by this rogue surgeon? Did the scrub practitioners and surgical assistants not query this?

    No organisation is perfect it can always be improved. We are told to be proactive, yet when we are employers are reactive.

    At the end of the day, it's not about earning higher wages than our colleagues in the NHS hospitals, it is about patient advocacy, compassion, integrity and patient safety, and also being able to sleep peacefully at night with a clear conscience.

    Moving forward, we must hope and pray that swift changes are made by our government to the private sector, so patients do not suffer unduly and their safety once again compromised.

    I look back at the incident I experienced in theatre where a surgeon dropped an instrument, washed it under a tap and reused it without sterilising it. I keep wondering whether the anaesthetist applied Duty Of Candour and explained to the patient why he was giving her another 'big' dose of antibiotics the following morning due to dropping the instrument and not sterlising it. Did the surgeon inform the patient?

    I don't know. I was not part of the investigation. All I heard was that the surgeon was happily back to work and my shifts were blocked! As a follow up, I received a P45 in the post three months later with no explanation or email/ phone call. I've still heard nothing to this day.

    I know of three colleagues who also received P45 in the post after making a safety complaint. What is it about speaking up that employers do not like?

    As scrub practitioners we need to focus on doing the right thing and if we are always thinking that every patient is a member of our own family, we will do it correctly.

    My mother told me before I left my country to start nursing in the UK: "God gave you a tongue, always use it to ask questions and stand up for yourself and others!"

    In the future, I will ask these questions at my next  interview:

    • "Are staff allowed to Speak Up and report safety incidents?"
    • "Are the reports followed up and lessons shared without victimising the person who reported it?"

    I may not get the job, but at least I can cast a small stone to create a few ripples. I will never stop Speaking Up for patient safety. I do not want to work in an environment where patient safety is compromised.

    What about you? What will you do? We all need to take action NOW.

    About the Author

    Theatre scrub nurse, private hospital.

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    I am very sorry to read of your experience in private healthcare. I have had the opportunity to observe practice in both private and nhs operating theatre's and agree that practice varies. Nursing staff are critical to patient safety in the operating environment and confident leadership is essential, but this takes time for an individual to develop. You have demonstrated the qualities we need to make patient safety a priority, professional and caring. Hold onto to your integrity and nursing standards - your patients need you to be their advocate especially when others are so unprofessional. 

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    Thank you again for your insight, commitment and bravery.

    Good questions for Boards., leaders, CQC and Healthwatch  to ask too:

    "Are staff allowed to Speak Up and report safety incidents?"

    "Are the reports followed up and lessons shared without victimising the person who reported it?"

    Staff should be allowed for sure. But ideally they should be encouraged and welcomed.

    Helen

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