A Critical Review of Thyroidectomy Consent in the UK

A Critical Review of Thyroidectomy Consent in the UK
Original Research
C.McIntyre, N.Tolley
International Journal of Surgery, 2 May 2019
In 2015-16, the National Health Service (NHS) Litigation Authority received 10,965 claims for clinical negligence with Surgery having the highest number of claims. Currently a sum amounting to 25% of the annual NHS budget has been ring-fenced to meet extant claims. Claims made on a basis of inadequate informed consent are increasingly seen with many achieving a successful plaintiff outcome. There are presently no UK guidelines for thyroidectomy consent.
A prospective study was performed to investigate current consent practice among the British Association of Endocrine and Thyroid Surgeons (BAETS) membership and patients having previously undergone thyroidectomy. For surgeons, the Bolam legal test applied where surgeons declared what risks and complications they routinely consented for during their practice. A study was also undertaken in patients who had previously undergone thyroidectomy for cancer applying the rule of Montgomery.
Consent practice from 193 surgeons and data from 415 patients was analysed. In total thyroidectomy for cancer, 95% of surgeons consent for Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve (RLN) injury and temporary or permanent voice change. 70% specifically consent for External Laryngeal Nerve (ELN) injury, 50% for tracheostomy and 55% for general anaesthetic associated complications. Analysis of patient data showed they would like to be consented for far more risks than they are presently informed about in general medical practice. There was significant variation in the consenting practice in BAETS surgeons.
A BAETS approved consensus guideline to standardise UK consent practice would be appropriate. This may reduce complaints, litigation claims and guide expert witnesses.

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