Coroner condemns ‘failure to provide basic medical attention’ to cancer patients

By Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent

A coroner has blasted a doctor and NHS trust over the deaths of 10 cancer patients, some of whom may have lived if they were treated properly.

A state of “professional jealousy” existed in Paul Miller’s urology department at Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, and opportunities were missed, senior coroner Penelope Schofield said on Friday.

The deaths of three of the patients, all of whom had been treated by Mr Miller, were contributed to by neglect, and “missed opportunities” were noted in respect of three more.

In one case, the coroner found that Mr Miller had delayed experimental ultrasound treatment, while a “business case” was built for the machine he co-owned.

Mr Miller has denied making money from the use of the high-intensity focused ultrasound (Hifu) machine.

Inquests into the deaths of 10 people who died between 2006 and 2015 have been taking place at Centenary House in Crawley over the last few weeks and concluded on Friday.

The cancer patients whose deaths are the subject of the inquests are: Keith Reynolds, 68, Leslie Owers, 75, Lilian Cole, 82, Martin Turner, 86, Renfried Avery, 80, Frederick Le Vallois, 71, Ian Spurgeon, 85, Alan Burgess, 72, Graham Stoten, 57, and Jose Cressy, 76.

They were treated by Mr Miller, who was employed as a consultant urologist at East Surrey Hospital in Redhill.

Ms Schofield said: “The trust was ill-prepared to deal with staff complaints, and decision-making appears to have weighed in favour of protecting the trust’s reputation, as opposed to patient safety.

“There were early concerns focusing on Mr Miller promoting Hifu [and] requests were made to Mr Miller to comply with guidelines.

“There appeared to be an element of professional jealousy among the consultants.

“All in all, what was going on in the urology department between 2008 and 2014 led to sub-optimal care to each and every one of the deceased.”

In the cases of Mr Avery, Mr Owers and Mr Stoten, the coroner said they died from natural causes, but that this was contributed to by neglect.

She added: “These findings point to a gross failure to provide basic medical attention.”

Mr Miller shook his head as the coroner read out the conclusion relating to Mr Owers.

In the case of Mr Le Vallois, the coroner said that Mr Miller’s decision to wait “while trying to build a business case for Hifu, was wholly inappropriate”.

In the cases of Mr Burgess, Ms Cressy, and Mr Le Vallois, Ms Schofield recorded a conclusion of death by natural causes, but identified “missed opportunities” in their care.

Ms Cressy and Mr Le Vallois may have lived if opportunities to identify the extent of their cancers had not been missed, she said.

Conclusions of death by natural causes were returned for the remaining four patients, Ms Cole, Mr Reynolds, Mr Spurgeon and Mr Turner.

Mr Avery’s son Mark Avery, 44, said in a statement afterwards: “It has been seven years since my dad passed away and I finally feel as if we have got some answers.

“It’s just a shame my mum, who died almost two years ago, isn’t here to see it.

“She was by my dad’s side through every step of his illness and was taken in by Miller as well.

“He was the expert and they trusted him implicitly; they put dad’s life in his hands.

“It is devastating to think that with different treatment we could have had months or even years left with him, and that’s something I will never be able to forgive Miller for.”

Dr Ed Cetti, medical director at Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “We extend our sympathies and sincere apologies to the family and friends of all those involved.

“We are sorry that historic poor practice led to some patients not receiving the standard of care they were entitled to expect.

“In the years since this period, we have worked hard to create the environment, systems and processes that ensure staff are supported to raise concerns, and that lessons are learnt and improvements made as a result.

“The culture of our organisation has been transformed, with the independent regulator rating us outstanding earlier this year.”

Victoria Beel, a clinical negligence lawyer at Slater and Gordon – who is acting for Mark Avery, said: “While the General Medical Council will now investigate this, it is imperative that the trust also learns from its own failures to stop Mr Miller earlier and ensures there are robust and rigorous systems in place to prevent this from ever happening again.

“Tens of thousands of inquests are held in the UK every year but only a handful are found to involve neglect, which shows how seriously the coroner considered the failings in this case.”