Some time ago we commented on the initial investigation into the conduct of Ian Paterson, a consultant breast surgeon practising in the private sector at Little Aston and Parkway Hospitals and in the NHS for Heart of England NHS Trust, all in the West Midlands. At that stage, concerns about whether he had been carrying out unnecessary invasive procedures were just becoming apparent.
We were approached then by some women and continue to act for patients treated by Mr Paterson. Initially, the scale of Mr Paterson’s actions was not clear but over the last couple of years, we have been monitoring the investigation and criminal proceedings against him.
At the end of April, Mr Paterson was found guilty of 17 counts of wounding with intent and three counts of unlawful wounding. The information that has come to light in terms of his conduct shows a gross breach of trust and professional obligation. Patients were advised of either exaggerated or even non existent cancer risks to encourage them to agree to surgical procedures. Not only did Mr Paterson then gain financially from being paid for those procedures, where carried out in the private sector, but in some cases he claimed for more expensive procedures than those actually performed.
Issues first came to light around 2004 but steps were only taken to start investigating Mr Paterson in mid 2011. It was then found that there were problems with care he had provided going back to 1997. In 2012, he was suspended by the GMC but the criminal case has only just drawn to a conclusion.
The women under Mr Paterson’s care who have been affected have, in many cases, suffered significantly and unnecessarily. Many have undergone invasive surgery to their breasts that was never needed, leaving them with disfigurement or scarring and making them feel abused. Others have been told that they have cancer risks that have scared them into surgery but were never in fact true. Perhaps worst of all, some who underwent a ‘cleavage saving mastectomy’ on Mr Paterson’s recommendation have had surgery that they now know has in fact increased their risk of getting secondary cancer.
The exact number of women who Mr Paterson wrongly treated is not yet known but he operated on more than 5,000 patients over this period (in the NHS and privately). So far hundreds of women have been identified as potentially affected - his NHS trust recalled over 600 women following the investigation - but there may be more. A number, including those who have instructed us to date, are now bringing claims – some against the NHS trust, some against Mr Paterson himself and some against the Spire Medical Group.
Philippa Luscombe, a partner in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, who specialises in cases involving breast cancer care and has been advising patients of Mr Paterson since 2012, comments: “It is difficult to comprehend how someone could wilfully behave in this way – with a deliberate or thoughtless disregard for the physical and mental wellbeing of his patients. By definition, a breast surgeon working largely with breast cancer patients is in a position of trust from vulnerable people. Through his actions, he abused and disregarded this trust. Although in relation to his work in the private sector, his motivation may well have been financial, it is difficult to see any reason why he would act in the same way in the NHS.
“While it is worrying that Mr Paterson was able to behave like this for so long without being stopped, the GMC’s action, the outcome of the criminal prosecution and media attention should mean that he will never practise again in this country. It also means that women who feel they want to take action and bring claims – be that for information, acknowledgement, damages to fund further treatment or any other reason - should now be assured that their claims will be dealt with sensibly. Sadly, however, many will suffer long-term effects that money simply can’t remedy.”