Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations BMJ Ethics Man

Who will operate on you?

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 07 October 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5447
  1. Daniel Sokol, medical ethicist and barrister
  1. 12 King’s Bench Walk, London
  1. Sokol{at}

A late change of surgeon may invalidate a patient’s consent

Kathleen Jones had terrible back pain. Following the advice of Daniel Chan, a highly regarded and experienced spinal surgeon, in 2010 she agreed to undergo decompression surgery. She believed that Chan would perform the operation and had waited for his return from leave so that he could undertake it.

Six days before the operation Mr Sundaram, a fellow in trauma and orthopaedics, asked for her consent to the procedure. She signed the consent form, which included the statement, “I understand that you cannot give me a guarantee that a particular person will perform the procedure. The person will, however, have appropriate experience.”

On the morning of the operation a nurse told Jones that Chan was …

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