Who can you trust?

I read the Paterson Inquiry report today. Which is an unusual thing for me to do. I don’t normally read inquiry reports. It’s not that I don’t care, or I’m not interested. It’s just that they so often leave me feeling hopeless and shocked.

Harm, death, missed opportunities, cover ups, negligence, pain and fear. These are usually common themes underneath the technical language and the chronological analysis. Sometimes it just feels like too much to take in.

But today for some reason I felt obliged to engage in a story about a man called Ian Paterson, a supposedly renowned and respected surgeon, now serving a prison sentence for 17 counts of wounding with intent (and many hundreds of other victims in addition). 

Maybe it’s because I’m 48 years old and everything to do with my woman’s body increasingly feels like an emerging medical issue: I’ve joined a Facebook group to prepare for the menopause, I have the regular joy of my smear test next week and my friend is starting at breast screening. These things are all our arguably admirable attempts to seek advice and support proactively and without delay; an opportunity Mr Paterson misused, and mis leveraged to the criminal hilt.

So, with all this on my mind, I grabbed a cup of tea in a motorway service station, braced myself and read the report from cover to cover.

Underneath the stories from the 211 patients and relatives who gave evidence was one over-arching and pervasive theme: who can you trust if you can’t trust the medical profession? And this is what I pondered as the service station staff cleaned around me and my tea went cold.

We place unquestioning trust in our medical and clinical colleagues of almost any designation. Even in this day and age of informed patients and Google diagnostics, we trust those who we think know better than us. We trust the people who we are referred to, the organisations that employ them, the agencies who regulate them, the bodies who accredit them, the colleagues who work with them, the managers who oversee them, we trust the reputations people create and the charisma that we see. We just trust it all. And why wouldn’t we?

So, when sadly our trust is betrayed, on many levels, in many ways and over many years what can we take from the trauma of betrayed trust?

Well we take the Right Reverend Graham James’ recommendations in the good grace that they are provided to us. We hope that this time systems, checks, culture and processes will improve meaning that we can’t be betrayed in this way again in the future. We take a more cynical, eyes wide open view into our next medical consultation. We do our research, talk to whoever we can and check our spider senses for things that don’t feel right. And after that we have to trust again. It’s all we can do. And we do it with compassion for the betrayed and contempt for the betrayers. We do it also knowing that the vast majority of the people we have to rely are thankfully not like Ian Paterson. We hope.