NHS faces huge bill over private provider’s botched eye operations

 

health correspondent

Dozens of NHS patients have been left with damage to their eyes, including partial loss of sight, after undergoing routine cataract operations which had been outsourced to a private provider.

A hospital in Somerset is now facing a slew of legal claims from patients who say they were left with problems including blurred vision, pain and swelling after undergoing cataract removal operations at a unit run by Vanguard Healthcare, which operated on the hospital site.

The scandal will raise serious questions about the Coalition Government’s plans to expand the role of private providers working in the NHS.

Vanguard had been under contract to Musgrove Park Hospital, in Taunton, since May to help clear a backlog of patients. Of 62 people who underwent cataract operations, 31 reported poor outcomes, according to lawyers for the patients. Cataract operations usually have a very low complication rate, typically around in one 400.

Laurence Vick, head of clinical negligence at Michelmores Solicitors, which is acting for a number of the patients affected, said the case “uncovered the uneasy relationship between the NHS and the private sector”.

“We don’t know what arrangements are in place for Musgrove to recoup their outlay and losses on this contract from Vanguard,” he said. “From the taxpayer’s point of view, it would be totally unreasonable for Vanguard to walk away from this scandal with only their reputation, and not their [investment], damaged… It is crucial that an episode of this kind is not dismissed as an anomaly – a hybridised, public-private NHS will need to be wary of similar issues in future.”

Patients affected are now having their side-effects treated at the hospital itself. Lawyers for some of the patients, most of whom were elderly and vulnerable, said it was likely the NHS Trust would have to pay for any successful compensation claims – meaning that the taxpayer would be footing the bill.

Among those affected was an 84-year-old man, whose son, Chris Newcombe, is now calling for an independent inquiry. Mr Newcombe says his father experienced blurred vision and swollen corneas after being operated on at the Vanguard mobile surgery unit.

Mr Newcombe told the Somerset County Gazette: “My father is traumatised and depressed with the loss of his eyesight. Previous pleasures of gardening and watching sport on the TV have now been taken away from him. This could have been prevented if the welfare of the patients had been thought about, rather than this urgency of just getting people through.”

His parents had “only praise and admiration” for staff at Musgrove’s own ophthalmology department, who have since been treating his father, he said.

The Trust said that due to an ongoing investigation into the matter, they could not comment “in detail on the sequence of events surrounding the unfortunate complications experienced by our patients receiving cataract surgery with Vanguard Healthcare in their mobile theatre at Musgrove Park Hospital. Our first and foremost concern has always been our patients, and particularly those who have experienced complications,” the statement said. “We have been in very close contact with them since the incident to ensure they are fully informed with our progress and receive the highest quality aftercare and treatment.”

Chief executive Jo Cubbon said that “early into the arrangement” with Vanguard in May, “technical issues in the facility had arisen and it became necessary to cease the service arrangements in place”.

Ian Gillespie, chief executive of Vanguard Healthcare, said: “Patient care is our number one priority and we’re working closely with the Trust to understand and fully investigate the root causes of any complications… Operations were carried out in Vanguard’s operating theatre by highly qualified surgeons, approved by the hospital.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Patients deserve the safest and best care and the NHS will hold this company to account if things have gone wrong, and reclaim costs on behalf of patients. Whoever carries out NHS treatment is subject to the same strict CQC regulatory regime.”

Profile: Vanguard

Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Brockworth, Gloucester, Vanguard’s key service is the hire of mobile operating theatres, dedicated mobile endoscopy units, wards, and clinics to public and private hospitals. The company’s latest accounts show a £576,000 profit on sales of £11.3m in 2013, a rise of more than 10 per cent. Its 57 staff – 35 technical and 22 administrative – earned an average of almost £53,000.

Vanguard Executive Chairman and co-founder Andrew Allen, a chartered accountant, spent the past 20 years as owner/manager of healthcare businesses. According to Vanguard’s website “three of these businesses were backed by private equity, and realised returns upon exit well in excess of 30 per cent p.a. for investors”.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing