Alain-Michel Ceretti – President, France Assos Santé

Photo Copyright: Olivier Corsan   Alain-Michel Ceretti, president of France Assos Santé (the French Union of the Registered Associations for the Users of the Health System), tells us about his own battle against nosocomial infections and the role of the organization in the protection of patient rights.   Why did you accept the position of President of France Assos Santé one and a half year ago? I have been since 1997 strongly involved in the patients’ organization side of the healthcare sector. After a surgery in one of the most famous private hospitals in Paris - the Clinique du Sport - my wife contracted an infection due to the multiple-use of what was meant to be a single-use medical device. It was provoked by a very special bacterium called Xenopi: an unprecedented event in France. My wife was less than 30 years old at the time, and this event has and will continue to profoundly impact our entire existence and lives. After years not realizing why she was entering into complicated physical discomfort (spiral cord pain and more), we started to ask ourselves the question: why? When did this happen? What went wrong? After extensive research, questions to the Clinique du Sport, discussions with the American manufacturer of this device, we concluded that the only fault was due to misusage of the device at the clinic. My wife and I however decided not to accept any form of compensation, as the insurance company required us to sign a non-disclosure clause and an agreement not to sue the clinic. Instead, we chose to fight and founded a patient health organization, Lien “The Link” [one of the 80 associations now part of France Assos Santé], which would include every patient that had a surgery at the Clinique du Sport between 1993 and 1998. You need to understand that this bacterium might manifest only after years due to its slow development in the bones. To find the other 59 people affected, most of them between the ages of 26-28 years old, we had to scan by MRI at least 25,000 patients.   What were the first measures that you took with Lien in 1997? Initially, identifying the affected people was very hard, due to the medical secret (the then Minister of Health Bernard Kouchner changed the law only in 2002). We could not use patients’ social security number, hence we created a toll-free number to be called by people treated at the clinic in that period. After, we tried to understand how this happened in Paris, in an internationally recognized private hospital. The reason was simple. At the time they were using a surgical instrument provided by an American company, that costed USD 1000 and was meant for single use. The American producer stopped doing business with the Clinique du Sport because they were using each instrument up to 15 times a day on different patients. The last step was about setting up a class action against the clinic and the surgeons. The trial lasted for 15 years, and in the end, the clinic and doctors pleaded guilty.   What was the effect of this very public scandal on addressing medical malpractice? The question was: How could this happen in a private hospital with this reputation? Bernard Kouchner, then Minister of Health, decided to better control medical practices, and the correct use of instruments and sterilization. We inspected 2500 private and public hospitals. In over two years the result was disconcerting, as in the same area you had good and bad structures, with no way of knowing in advance.   What was the idea behind the creation of France Assos Santé?
In the words of Bernard Kouchner, it was necessary to organize a sanitary democracy, a political representation of patients and taxpayers in general
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