A rogue breast surgeon who left hundreds of patients disfigured and traumatised after carrying out needless operations has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Consultant surgeon Ian Stuart Paterson, 59, was convicted last month of 17 counts of wounding with intent, relating to nine women and one man. He was also convicted of three further wounding charges.
Jurors at the seven-week trial at Nottingham crown court decided the surgeon carried out “extensive, life-changing operations for no medically justifiable reason” on the 10 patients between 1997 and 2011. The jury heard that Paterson regularly “miscoded” procedures, charging for more expensive treatment. He was accused of carrying out the often pointless surgery for “obscure motives”, which may have included a desire to earn extra money.
The NHS has been forced to pay out almost £10m in compensation to more than 250 patients. But Paterson could have more than 1,000 additional victims, among them hundreds of private Spire Healthcare patients who may never be compensated for botched and unnecessary surgery. Since his conviction more than 100 former patients have come forward.
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, called Paterson’s actions “profoundly shocking” and promised to hold an inquiry into the actions of the disgraced surgeon if the party is returned to power.
Paterson, described in court by one victim as being “like God”, lied to patients and exaggerated or invented the risk of cancer to convince them to go under his knife.
Judge Jeremy Baker had released the surgeon on conditional bail but warned the suspended doctor that he faced a custodial sentence. The maximum sentence for wounding with intent is life.
A number of Paterson’s former patients have died since being treated by him. For several years before the trial concerns were raised about his practice of carrying out “cleavage-saving mastectomies”, a controversial operation that left breast tissue behind after the removal of cancerous cells. This method meant that the chances of a relapse within five years doubled. One patient, Michelle Flavelle, died five years after Paterson treated her when her cancer spread to her liver, though it was not possible to establish a definitive connection.
One patient who gave evidence in the trial had 27 biopsy cores taken from her healthy right breast, which was “absolutely not” received medical best practice, according to one expert.
Struggling with her emotions, Frances Perks told the jury Patterson had conned her into thinking she was high risk and that he had destroyed her life. “He’s a psychopath. Why would anyone in their right mind do operations to people knowing that they didn’t need them?” she said, adding that she hoped he would rot in hell.
Former patients told the Guardian Paterson exaggerated or invented the risk of cancer and, in some cases, claimed payments for more expensive procedures than those he had carried out in order to dupe insurers, which Paterson denied.
Paterson was employed by the Heart of England NHS trust in 1998 despite having previously been suspended from Good Hope hospital in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham. He also practised at Spire Healthcare hospitals in the Midlands over a 13-year period.
Following his conviction the Royal College of Surgeons called for a review of safety standards in the private sector, and said unexpected deaths and safety fears in private hospitals should be made more transparent.
The NHS has so far paid out around £18m including £9.5m in damages, settling 256 cases, with 25 outstanding. Hundreds of Paterson’s private patients may never see a penny after his insurance company, the Medical Defence Union, said its cover was “discretionary” and had been withdrawn.
Paterson had a limited separate insurance policy of £10m, which solicitors say will not nearly cover the compensation and costs of all private patients. At least 350 people are still suing the NHS and Spire Healthcare over treatment in private hospitals where Paterson also practised.
Spire Healthcare, which runs Parkway and Little Aston hospitals where Paterson practised have settled some cases, but argue that as Paterson was not technically their employee, they are not responsible for his actions. The company would not provide any details about the compensation paid.
After the conviction a Spire spokesman said: “What Mr Paterson did in our hospitals, in other private hospitals and in the NHS, absolutely should not have happened and today justice has been done.
“We would like to reiterate how truly sorry we are for the distress experienced by any patients affected by this case.
“We can say unequivocally that we have learned the lessons from these events. We commissioned a thorough independent investigation and have fully implemented all of the recommendations.”
Many former Paterson patients described the consultant’s “brilliant” bedside manner. “He was so lovely, I thought I was so lucky. I thought I was being looked after,” said Elaine Diskin, whom Paterson operated on eight times in as many years. An independent medical report undertaken at the request of Medical and Professional Services Ltd found 69 breaches by Ian Paterson against her.
Her husband, Mike, also respected the surgeon to the extent that when he had a pain in his chest, he went to Paterson and did not hesitate when he said he suspected lipoma and that they “had to get it out”.
“Sinister was the word he used,” Mike Diskin said. “I had no reason to doubt him because he was looking after Elaine so well.”
After the Diskins were recalled for a review of their treatment in 2012, they discovered that at least seven of the eight operations Paterson had performed on Elaine, along with those on her husband and another friend, were unnecessary.
A civil case with seven test cases, which will determine to what extent Spire, the Heart of England NHS Trust and Paterson can be held liable, is scheduled to be heard in October, but looks likely to be delayed. The outcome will affect all the private patients who have brought civil claims and fear they may receive nothing.
It is believed that Spire has made a handful of payments, the largest about £150,000, including for unnecessary removal of lumps and “cleavage-sparing mastectomies”.
Concerns about Paterson were raised as far back as 2003, but despite several internal and external investigations and complaints from patients, GPs and other surgeons, the General Medical Council did not suspend him until 2011. “In every profession you get rogue operators, but there are checks and balances to stop terrible things happening,” said Mike Diskin. “Why were there not in this case, or why were they ignored?”
1998: Paterson is hired as a consultant surgeon at the Heart of England NHS trust, despite being previously suspended from Good Hope hospital. He also sees private patients at Spire Healthcare hospitals of Little Aston and Parkway.
2003: He is investigated because of concerns about cleavage-sparing mastectomies. Recommendations are not followed through.
2007: Breast surgeon Hemant Ingle is appointed and with others raises concerns. Further investigations are carried out and Paterson is told to stop performing cleavage-sparing mastectomies. Mark Goldman, the chief executive of the Heart of England NHS trust, informs Spire that it is investigating Paterson.
2008: Two GPs complain about Paterson’s treatment of a patient, saying he gave misleading information about pathology reports, overtreated patients and disregarded the multidisciplinary team meeting process. Another report is also critical.
2009: A Spire Parkway patient makes a formal complaint about Paterson. No action is taken. Heart of England NHS trust recalls 12 patients who have had cleavage-sparing mastectomies. West Midlands Cancer Intelligence Unit submits two further reports.
2010: The GMC tells Spire Parkway executives about a complaint from an NHS patient.
2011: Parkway are informed that Paterson carried out a cleavage-sparing mastectomy in 2009 after being told to stop in January 2008. A month later, the GMC informed Spire about another patient complaint. A recall of all Paterson’s patients begins.
Paterson is suspended by the NHS in May 2011 but continues to perform breast surgery for Spire until 31 May and general surgery until 8 June 2011. He is paid until November 2012.
2017: Ian Paterson is found guilty of 17 counts of wounding with intent, relating to nine women and one man. He is also convicted of three further wounding charges.