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Rogue surgeon Paterson is sentenced to 15 years after performing unnecessary operations

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j2678 (Published 01 June 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2678
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. The BMJ

The rogue breast surgeon Ian Paterson has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for carrying out “extensive, life changing operations for no medically justifiable reason.”

Paterson, a former consultant surgeon at Heart of England NHS Trust, was convicted last month at Nottingham Crown Court of 17 counts of wounding with intent and three counts of wounding in his treatment of nine women and one man.1 He received 15 years for each wounding with intent charge and four years for each wounding charge, all to run concurrently.

The 10 patients underwent needless operations for breast surgery at private hospitals run by Spire Healthcare after Paterson misrepresented biopsy results and exaggerated risks posed by family history to convince the patients that mastectomy was essential to prevent breast cancer.

The Crown Court heard victim impact statements before the sentence was handed down. John Ingram, the sole male patient, described Paterson as a criminal with “no concept of remorse.”

“The harm he caused me went much further than the acts of drugging, then cutting open my body and removing healthy tissue from my chest, when there was absolutely no medical need to do so,” said Ingram. He described his “incomprehension, confusion, and disbelief” on learning that his surgery had not been medically necessary and that Paterson had “actively deceived and manipulated” him.

“He used the respectability and cloak of professionalism that came with being a consultant breast cancer surgeon to commit grotesque violent acts against me and the other victims in this trial,” he added.

In another impact statement, Carole Johnson said that she had “lost a lot of trust in medical professionals” and had been left feeling “isolated and vulnerable.” Calling Paterson a monster, she said, “The fact he denied it and put me on the witness stand made it even harder.”

Paterson, who maintained his innocence throughout the trial and has not apologised to his former patients, sat with his eyes mostly closed, shaking his head throughout the statements.

Describing her scars, Johnson said, “I initially came to terms, thinking my life had been saved. Now when I look in the mirror I see a victim of Mr Paterson who took away part of me as a woman . . . I do not think I can find it within my heart to ever forgive him.”

The surgeon’s motives “may never be known,” said Mr Justice Jeremy Baker, but he suggested that financial considerations played a role. “In pursuit of your own self aggrandisement and material rewards,” he told Paterson, “you deliberately preyed on their worst fears, either by inventing or deliberately exaggerating the risk that they would develop cancer.”

The total number of patients harmed by Paterson could be more than 1000. Most of the civil compensation claims against him involve actual cancer patients who accuse him of insufficiently thorough mastectomies. Paterson was a rare advocate of “cleavage sparing” surgery, which was associated with twice the relapse rate of full mastectomy.

The NHS has already paid out about £18m (€20.6m; $23.2m) in costs and damages to 256 of his former patients. But a large number of patients treated by him in private hospitals also seek redress, and Paterson’s insurance coverage is not adequate to compensate them. Spire Healthcare said in a statement that the issue of liability and compensation for his private patients would be dealt with by the courts through a trial of lead cases later this year.

In a statement labelling Paterson a “rogue surgeon,” Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said, “Ian Paterson was a liar who ultimately cheated his patients out of the care they needed. Simply put, he is a disgrace to the medical profession.”

The health secretary for England, Jeremy Hunt, has promised a “comprehensive and focused inquiry” into Paterson’s malpractice if the Conservative party wins the coming election.

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