Calls for ‘surgeon’ title to be protected
SURGEONS want their medical status to be given legal backing amid concerns that patients are being misled by practitioners who are using the title without formal qualifications.
The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has warned that a growing number of health workers – employed in both the NHS and the private sector – are using the title even though they are not medically qualified.
There are no legal restrictions on the use of the title, and the influential medical body is now calling on the UK government to close the loophole to ensure that only practitioners who meet the education and training requirements associated with the job can call themselves a surgeon.
The RCS said it had a “high degree of concern” that there are surgeons providing treatment in the NHS who do not hold medical degrees and who are not surgical specialists.
It says the most common misuse of the title is among podiatric surgeons, who specialise in the treatment of feet, and aesthetic surgeons, who work in the field of cosmetic treatments, such as botox injections.
The RCS revealed it had anecdotal evidence of patients being left in pain or with further health complications after visiting medical staff whom they believed were qualified surgeons. A survey commissioned by the college found that nine out of ten patients expected a practitioner who used the title of surgeon to be medically qualified.
Professor Norman Williams, president of the RCS, said: “It’s extremely worrying that, in the health sector, clarity regarding job title is lacking. Patients undergoing treatment have a right to know the credentials of the person to whom they are entrusting their safety.”
Podiatric surgeons have not completed a medical degree and have only trained in the surgical and non-surgical treatment of the foot, which leaves them unable to treat the patient as a whole. An aesthetic surgeon may not have a medical degree and may not have undertaken specialist training.
According to the RCS, one female patient has been left in permanent pain after a botched operation to correct a hammer toe, which was carried out by someone she believed had been fully medically trained. A second patient visited a podiatric surgeon who told him he needed a screw inserted into a bone to prevent his foot overturning. The man is now unable to walk as a result of the poor quality of surgery which, he has since been told, he did not require at all.
The RCS, which was established in 1800, conducted a UK-wide poll of 2,000 people to find out what the public expects from surgeons and what they associate the title with.
It found 95 per cent of people would expect an individual using the job title “surgeon” to have a medical degree, and 92 per cent would be in favour of the use of the term to be legally protected.
More than two-thirds of those polled said they would be “concerned” if their surgeon did not have a medical degree. Yet only 27 per cent of people had or would check a surgeon’s qualifications before having an operation.
Sue Woodward, the chairwoman of the patient group at the RCS, said: “With patients increasingly able to choose their treatments from a growing range of professionals, there is a growing need for clarity on the level of training, skills and experience of those who treat them. Currently, patients are being left in the dark and cannot make informed decisions about their treatment.
“The law must be changed so only those who have undertaken the extensive medical training it takes to become a surgeon can use this title. This will avoid patients misunderstanding the qualification of the person treating them.”
The RCS’s move is being supported by the Scotland Patients’ Association. Spokeswoman Jean Turner said: “Patients expect anyone operating on any part of their body to be fully qualified to do so and to have the appropriate medical indemnity insurance to cover any legal claims for compensation. All fully trained doctors are required to have this and patients wish to feel safe and should not need to worry about who is or who is not qualified.”
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