Bunion Surgery is a costly and painful procedure that is meant for only the most severe and debilitating cases of Hallux valgus. However many sufferers of mild to moderate and mildly severe bunions have been duped into paying for unnecessary bunion surgery that could lead to them being permanently maimed. In an article in the Daily Mail, teacher Beth Day, a fit aerobics and Pilates enthusiast, explains how her feet were permanently damaged after an operation to correct a bunion, a toe deformity, went wrong.
The procedure was meant to involve nothing more than shaving the bony growth from the side of her foot, but the surgeon accidentally broke her toe. The operation, which also caused nerve damage in her foot, was carried out in 2007 when she was 36. She is now 42.
She spent the following three years in agony before she received corrective orthopaedic surgery last year, but has still been left with arthritis, pain and deformity. Although she can get into extra-wide shoes, she is often struck by excruciating arthritic pain on cold days and has to put on her slippers.
Her original operation was performed by one of a new breed of healthcare practitioners, called a podiatric surgeon. ‘I was unaware of the difference between a podiatric and an orthopaedic surgeon in terms of training and background,’ she says.
The qualification involves a one-year postgraduate course in surgery after a chiropody or podiatry degree. Surgical podiatrists are less highly trained, so do not command the high fees of orthopaedic surgeons. They are in competition with consultant foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons, who have extensive training of around 16 years.
Following complaints from orthopaedic surgeons, the practitioners were told in 2010 by the Department of Health they cannot use the title ‘podiatric surgeon’ because surgeons have to be medically trained. However, they are continuing to do so because of a loophole in the law. The concern is there is a considerable variation in standards among podiatrists performing surgery.
‘There are two groups of podiatric surgeons, one of them is willing to work alongside orthopaedic surgeons in hospitals, and the other is not,’ says Anthony Sakellariou, spokesman for the British Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. ‘All the problems I have seen come from this second group. I would say all of us get at least one referral a month involving a patient who has had a problem following treatment from podiatric surgeons. The problems often include accidentally broken bones, nerve damage and even bone cancers which podiatric surgeons have not recognised or have misdiagnosed. No one seems to be taking this seriously.’
Indeed, Beth Day’s case may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Bill Crampin, 66, an architect, has just received a ‘substantial six-figure settlement’ after botched podiatric surgery on his foot forced him to give up his career because he could no longer walk properly. ‘It was an operation I didn’t even need and it led to more surgery to try to put it right,’ he says.
‘I thought this man was a doctor. I think it is appalling that these people can call themselves surgeons when they are not medically qualified.’
Earlier this year, a former leading cosmetic surgeon was in hospital to have a toe amputated after a similar operation by a podiatric surgeon went wrong. In response to this growing tide of complaints, the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists insists the complaints about podiatrists are being orchestrated by orthopaedic surgeons anxious to protect their territory. However the field of Bunion Surgery is increasing seen as an unregulated “Wild West” where anything goes and patients end up broke, maimed or worse.