I wrote about the scandal of Ian Paterson’s ‘cleavage sparing’ mastectomy (an operation which leaves some breast tissue for cosmetic reasons) in some detail when his actions first came to light some five years ago.
Accused of performing not only CSM (a technique which is not a recommended procedure) but also unnecessary operations he was found guilty of 17 counts of wounding with intent at Nottingham Crown Court in April. The true number of people (mainly women but some men too, one of whom gave evidence in court) damaged by Mr Paterson and left with deep physical and psychological scars may never be known but certainly runs into the hundreds.
‘Weak, indecisive leadership’
At the time of writing, he has yet to be sentenced and most experts anticipate a custodial sentence. Although such an outcome may momentarily give a sense of victory to those affected, they will continue to suffer from the repercussions of his criminal activity for many years, possibly forever. He practised at both Heartland of England NHS Trust Hospital and two private hospitals run by Spire Healthcare and, although concerns about his competence as a surgeon were raised as early as 2003, they were ignored and he was allowed to continue operating until 2011. Well before his case came to court, a report by Sir Ian Kennedy revealed that it was ‘weak, indecisive leadership’ which allowed him to get away with ‘over treating’ so many people as well as continuing to perform a discredited surgical technique on others. Hundreds of claims against Heart of England have already been settled by the Trust and there are hundreds more planning to bring a civil claim against the surgeon for financial compensation.
Arrogant behaviour not challenged
It appears that the court was treated to the same display of arrogance which allowed Paterson to avoid being challenged by those he worked with, including dismissing the evidence presented by the medical experts. For me, this is the nub of the matter: although the number of rogue surgeons is very few, their impact on their patients is immeasurable, and the reason they can continue to practise is because their intimidating manner deters colleagues from reporting, let alone challenging, them. Fortunately, the image of an all-powerful surgeon is starting to diminish as whistle blowers are protected and patients have more information and fewer qualms about querying the treatment they receive.
Staff able to raise concerns
Both Heart of England NHS Trust and Spire Healthcare have publicly stated that lessons have been learnt and that both organisations now have procedures in place which allow staff to raise genuine concerns - without compromising their position - about the behaviour and competence of colleagues, regardless of seniority. The NHS has imposed a Duty of Candour on all its staff as well as implementing safety protocols and procedures to stop doctors like Ian Paterson slipping through the net. Fortunately, such people are relatively rare: the vast majority of doctors, nurses and medical practitioners are meticulous, methodical and conscientious. However, as this case shows, it only takes one person to wreak devastation on the lives of thousands. We are representing several former patients of Ian Paterson; if you have been treated by him and wish to know if you can bring a claim against him, please contact me in the strictest confidence.