National Ombudsmen
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Hospital staff failed man living with HIV by unnecessarily delaying surgery

A hospital that unnecessarily delayed a man’s surgery at the last minute because he had HIV failed in their care, according to England’s Health Ombudsman.

The 48-year-old from Walsall, who does not want to be named, had been due to have prostate surgery at Walsall Manor Hospital on 10 March 2020.

His surgery was scheduled to be the first of the morning. As he was about to enter the operating room, he was told that due to his HIV status his surgery would now be moved to last on the operating list that afternoon.

The hospital claimed that this was due to the level of cleaning and infection control that would need to take place following his surgery to reduce the risk to others.

However, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), found that Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust acted inappropriately and failed the man.

This is because the universal precautions that apply to all patients having surgery are enough to protect and prevent infections from spreading among patients and staff. Therefore, no additional cleaning should have been necessary.  

The policy of placing a patient at the end of an operating list usually relates to patients with a high-risk bacterial infection. It should not be applied to a person who has HIV and is receiving treatment.

The Ombudsman also found that although the Trust had made some changes since this happened, they had not done enough to make sure the same mistake did not reoccur.

PHSO recommended the Trust apologise to the man and create an action plan to stop this happening again. The Trust has complied with these recommendations.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, recently said:

“People living with a long-term health condition, such as HIV, are protected under the Equality Act. This means that anyone living with the virus should not be treated differently.

“Moving the man’s surgery at the last minute because he had HIV, is not acceptable. A person with HIV deserves the same level of care and treatment as anyone else. The Trust’s actions were out-dated and simply wrong, which led to a distressing experience for him.

“The Trust has now put steps in place to stop this from happening again which shows how powerful making a complaint can be. Not only can raising a complaint reveal the truth of what happened and resolve the issue for the individual involved, it can also drive lasting change that helps others.”

The man, who has been living with HIV since 2007, recently said:

“I expected awareness about HIV and infection control to be better in the NHS. Having surgery is stressful enough, but being told as I was literally at the theatre doors that it was postponed due to my HIV status just made it much worse. I felt anxious, humiliated, and upset.

“I took my complaint to the Ombudsman and wanted to speak out about what happened because I don’t want anyone else to go through this.

“The Ombudsman has been fantastic but my experience at the Trust has been tough. I never wanted any financial compensation, and I haven’t asked for any. I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The stigma and lack of education, especially among health professionals, about HIV has got to change.”

The man has also been supported by the National AIDS Trust who wrote to the hospital Trust to share their concern that putting patients with HIV to the end of their daily operating lists could be discriminatory.

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive at National AIDS Trust, recently said:

“We’re pleased that the Health Ombudsman has made clear that the Trust failed in their care in this case. We hope that this will lead to change and mean that people living with HIV will never again have a similar experience at this Trust.

“This case shows how HIV stigma can get in the way of respectful, non-discriminatory care for people living with HIV. It’s essential that healthcare providers, and all organisations, make sure their policies and practices are based on up-to-date science and understanding of the needs of people living with HIV. Sadly this case was only escalated to the Health Ombudsman after the Trust failed to change their policies, despite us highlighting the issue to them. It is everyone’s responsibility to reduce HIV stigma and that starts with being open to learning and making changes to make sure that services are genuinely inclusive spaces for people living with HIV.”

Read the case summary.


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