Breast surgeon is investigated by GMC over allegations of unnecessary surgery

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 09 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7636
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

A surgeon under investigation by the UK General Medical Council over allegations that he carried out more than 1000 unnecessary or inappropriate breast cancer operations also faces a possible police inquiry.

Ian Stuart Paterson is accused of performing unnecessary lumpectomies on up to 450 women without first carrying out a biopsy and of doing “cleavage sparing” mastectomies on up to 700 women that risked leaving cancerous tissue behind. He was suspended from practice last month by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, pending a full hearing into the charges next summer.

Paterson worked at NHS and private hospitals in the Midlands of England from 1994. In July 2011 the GMC interim orders panel placed conditions on his registration banning him from carrying out breast surgery.

West Midlands police are looking into allegations that in his private work he made claims to medical insurers for unnecessary procedures or for more expensive operations than those he performed. The force said that it had received a referral from the GMC and was liaising with the Crown Prosecution Service and “working closely with the GMC to assess the allegations and determine whether a criminal investigation is necessary.”

Paterson was employed by the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Heartlands, Solihull and Good Hope hospitals, and also worked at the private Spire Parkway and Spire Little Aston hospitals. Most of his NHS work was done at Solihull Hospital.

After a review by the Heart of England trust in December 2007, the cleavage sparing operations were stopped, the trust said, and women were subsequently called in for a review of their treatment between 2008 and 2011. Some women were told that they had never had breast cancer.

Nearly 100 women are taking legal action through the law firm Thompsons, and other firms have also taken up cases. A senior clinical negligence solicitor at Thompsons, Kashmir Uppal, said, “It is staggering this went on for such a long time, causing so much needless worry and risk. The so called cleavage sparing procedure increases the risk of cancer returning, and the lumpectomies carried out without biopsies mean that some of these women had surgery they didn’t need.

“Where were the checks and balances to prevent this surgeon breaching national guidelines and continuing to do so over such as long period? What guarantee is there that these practices have not been used by other surgeons?”

Aresh Anwar, medical director of Solihull Hospital, said, “We are committed to ensuring whatever learning is needed from these complex events is achieved and shared widely and are currently planning an independent review which we will publish in full.”

The Medical Defence Union said in a statement issued on Paterson’s behalf, “Mr Paterson is cooperating fully with the GMC investigation. He cannot comment further due to his duty of patient confidentiality and the ongoing investigation.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7636