Whilst a patient may be offered an appointment with either a ‘Consultant Podiatric Surgeon’ or a ‘Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon’, the meaning behind a title can be misleading.

Patients offered an NHS or private appointment with a ‘Consultant Podiatric Surgeon’ may believe that they are seeing a qualified doctor, but in the vast majority of cases, they are wrong. What’s the difference between a Consultant Podiatric Surgeon and a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon?

A Consultant Podiatric Surgeon undergoes intensive training but doesn’t necessarily complete years of medical and surgical training, which ‘surgeon’ implies. Podiatric surgeons are professionals registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, a body that itself acknowledges that “the title ‘surgeon’ is not currently legally protected” [1].

In contrast, a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon is a trained professional registered with the General Medical Council. They will undergo years of medical training before specialising in orthopaedic surgery. When an orthopaedic surgeon treats you, you have the reassuring knowledge that they are qualified doctors with the appropriate medical background to consider both the immediate problem and other factors, such as pre-existing medical conditions, that might lead to complications.

For some patients, such as people with diabetes, foot surgery can be even more problematic, resulting in the need for antibiotics. Foot surgery can also be very painful, making it important that your ‘surgeon’ can prescribe the appropriate pain relief. Despite this, it is a little-known fact that whilst all orthopaedic surgeons can prescribe medication, which in the case of antibiotics could be urgently needed to save life or limb, only some podiatric surgeons who have undergone further training can legally do so.

When asked by the BBC in 2009 to explain why podiatric surgeons were allowed to operate in NHS hospitals the Department of Health advised:

"The Department of Health has previously expressed concern to the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists about the use of the term "surgeon" which is protected for healthcare professionals who have a medical qualification as recognised by the GMC for doctors." [2]

It is important to recognise that some podiatric surgeons are highly skilled and have undergone the additional training necessary to allow them to prescribe medication legally. As a patient, it is important that you understand exactly who is operating on you, so you are aware of any risks involved with the surgery.

When a podiatric surgeon recommends you undergo a foot operation, you should ask yourself, and them:

  • What training have you undergone?
  • Are you accredited? And
  • If I need life or limb-saving medication, are you legally allowed to prescribe this to me?

Further information

At Anthony Collins Solicitors, we have acted for clients who have suffered poor outcomes as a result of negligently performed foot surgery. If you, or someone you know, would like to know more about the services we provide, then please contact us.  We are happy to talk to you on an initial free, no-obligation basis.

If you require any further information or wish to speak to any of our team, please contact Christopher Frankling.