Hundreds of women were subjected to painful, life-changing surgery at the hands of convicted breast surgeon Ian Paterson, who was able to “hide in plain sight” in NHS and private hospitals across the midlands for more than two decades, an independent inquiry has said.
Paterson was a charismatic surgeon, who won over his patients and was described as “charming” with a good bedside manner.
But in reality he was lying to many of the women who were referred to him. In some cases he told them they had cancer and needed mastectomies, the removal of their breasts, when they didn’t have the disease at all.
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Some patients who did have cancer were left at risk of developing the disease after Paterson invented an unofficial tissue-sparing procedure that left behind breast tissue. Around 1,200 NHS patients went under Paterson’s knife for mastectomies. Around 675 of them have now died.
Paterson was able to avoid scrutiny and continue mutilating women for more than two decades because of the way he was able to work across both the NHS and private hospitals in Solihull. Despite concerns about him dating back as far as 1998, no action was taken until 2011, when he was suspended by the Heart of England Foundation Trust.
The inquiry, led by the the former Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, has referred five doctors and nurses to the General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council for investigation over their failures to take action. The report said: “This report is not simply a story about a rogue surgeon. It would be tragic enough if that was the case, given the thousands of people whom Ian Paterson treated. But it is far worse. It is the story of a healthcare system which proved itself dysfunctional at almost every level when it came to keeping patients safe, and where those who were the victims of Paterson’s malpractice were let down time and time again.”
Eventually in 2017, Paterson was jailed for 20 years for 17 counts of wounding with intent against 10 of his victims. A total of 750 women received total compensation of more than £37m in an out-of-court settlement involving the NHS and Spire Healthcare, the private company that allowed Paterson use of its facilities at Spire Parkway and Spire Little Aston hospitals.
He worked there under what is called “practising privileges”, where clinicians carry out their own practice, effectively renting space from the private hospital with minimal attempts to monitor him.
One of the questions being examined at today’s independent inquiry will be why concerns about Paterson did not lead to action that would prevent such mistakes from happening again.
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Paterson was employed by the Heart of England NHS trust in 1998, but even before this he was known to be a risk. His previous hospital, Good Hope Hospital, had suspended him for two years and carried out an investigation into his practice. But these fears did not stop him working unsupervised in the NHS.