Lord Patel was educated in India, Tanzania and London. He graduated from the University of St Andrews in 1964 and since qualifying has continued to work in Scotland, including more than 30 years at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School. His academic and clinical interests were in the field of high-risk obstetrics. He has published on pre-term labour, foetal growth retardation and obstetric epidemiology. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, honorary Fellow of several Royal Colleges in the UK, Ireland and overseas, and honorary doctorates in the UK and overseas.
Previously he has held the positions of Chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges of Scotland and the United Kingdom; Chairman of the National Health Quality Improvement Scotland; member of the General Medical Council and the Academy of Medical Sciences; Chairman of the Genetic Advisory Committee of the Medical Research Council; President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; Chairman of the Clinical Standards Board for Scotland; and Vice President of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics. He was also a member of the Board of the Armed Forces Pay Review.
He is currently retired and sits in the House of Lords having received a knighthood in 1997 and elevation to the Peerage in 1999. There he has been a member of the Science and Technology Committee. He is currently Chairman of the UK Stem Cell Oversight Committee, UK Stem Cell Network and Chairman of the National Patient Safety Agency of England and Wales. He is patron of a number of charities, a board member of several others, and is closely involved in developing centres for training and treatment in Africa for obstetric fistulas.