Duty of candour

TheBMJ this week reported that a consultant neurosurgeon who operated on the wrong vertebrae in a patient’s spine then kept his mistake hidden from the patient and his NHS trust has been spared any sanction by a medical practitioners tribunal, despite its finding that his practice was impaired on the grounds of dishonesty. The article states:

Brooke realised his error only three days later when he was writing a discharge letter. But he chose not to inform the patient or the trust. Instead he called the patient after three weeks to see if he was still in pain, which he was, and to offer further surgery, which he later performed.

Brooke told the tribunal that he chose not to disclose the error because the patient was already “in low spirits” and might suffer mentally. He waited three weeks, he said, to allow any placebo effect from surgery to wear off before assessing symptoms. The tribunal accepted this explanation because Brooke was able to show that in three previous cases of wrong site surgery he had always swiftly informed the patient.

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