NHS covered up breast surgeon with 'God complex' who needlessly butchered hundreds of women

Robert Mendick
Former breast surgeon Ian Paterson, who has been convicted of 17 counts of wounding with intent and three counts of unlawful wounding by a jury at Nottingham Crown Court after being accused of carrying out a series of unnecessary operations  - PA

The NHS was accused on Friday night of a cover-up over a surgeon who wrecked the lives of hundreds of women over more than a decade.

Hospital bosses had been warned about the conduct of Ian Paterson, 59 – said to have had a “God complex” – but they allowed him to continue operating on breast cancer patients at an NHS trust and in private hospitals.

Paterson led patients into thinking they had breast cancer  Credit:  (B&W) 

Campaigners said a system in which senior doctors went unchallenged needed to be overhauled.

Justice caught up with Paterson yesterday after he was convicted of 17 counts of wounding with intent and three counts of unlawful wounding involving 10 patients.

He faces prison when he is sentenced next month for lying to patients and exaggerating or inventing the risk of cancer to convince them to have surgery.

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Police said that one possible motive behind Paterson carrying out “extensive, life-changing operations for no medically justifiable reason” was to sustain his lucrative lifestyle. He owned several properties in the UK and abroad.

Ian Paterson Credit: BPM Media 

One victim, who underwent a needless mastectomy, branded him “a psychopath” and said she hoped he “rots in hell”.

Another was left looking as if she had been in a “car crash” after having a mastectomy she did not need.

Jade Edginton, who was a teenager when Paterson misled her into having unneccessary surgery to remove lumps from her breasts, said: “When you’re 16 sitting in a big room with some big high-flying surgeon who says we need to get it out, you just go ‘yeah, we do need to get it out’.”

A critical report had accused NHS bosses of “secrecy and containment” over concerns first raised in 2003.

The NHS has already paid out almost £18 million after settling more than 250 civil claims, but lawyers estimated the total number of victims was likely to exceed 1,000.

One patients’ group described the scale of his offending as “Shipman-esque” – a reference to Dr Harold Shipman, the GP who is believed to have murdered more than 200 elderly patients before being caught.

The scandal raises questions over the NHS’s ability to detect rogue surgeons in the system as well as its failure to share concerns with the private hospitals where Paterson also worked.

Lynda Johnson in Solihull. Lynda Johnson in Solihull Credit: Andrew Fox 

The charges – which Paterson denied – concerned his work between 1997 and 2011 at Spire Healthcare’s Parkway and Little Aston private hospitals in the West Midlands.

Det Chief Supt Mark Payne said at the conclusion of the seven-week trial: “Paterson was a controlling bully, who played God with people’s lives so he could live a luxurious lifestyle.”

The jury at Nottingham Crown Court was not told that hundreds of Paterson’s patients were recalled by the NHS in 2012 after concerns about unnecessary or incomplete operations.

A report in 2013 by Sir Ian Kennedy, a law professor, found Paterson’s managers at the Heart of England NHS Trust ignored complaints against him because they “preferred good news to true news”.

Paterson, who lives in Altrincham, Gtr Manchester, had been suspended from another trust, the Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield, when he started working for Heart of England in March 1998.

NHS scandals

Concerns were first raised about his work there in 2003, but he was only suspended by the General Medical Council in 2012 over inadequate partial mastectomies that left women at risk of cancer returning.

More than 60 women subsequently suffered from recurrent cancer because of so-called cleavage-sparing mastectomies which he carried out.

Sir Ian said in his report: “It is a story of clinicians going along with what they knew to be poor performance. It is a story of weak and indecisive leadership from senior managers. It is a story of secrecy and containment.”

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Former patient Debbie Douglas, who was left “mutilated”, said: “He should suffer and should spend a long time in jail. Definitely money was a factor. I was insured by my company and I was a licence to print money for him. But he also had a God complex as he made an issue of telling me that he had cured me.”

Frances Perks, who endured nine operations, at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds, which included a full mastectomy and breast reconstruction in 2009, said: “I think he’s a psychopath. Why would anyone in their right mind do operations to people knowing that they didn’t need them?

Frances Perks, who underwent treatment by Ian Paterson Credit: PA

“My feeling towards him is I hate him with a passion. I hope he goes down for a very long time and I hope he has a dreadful time in prison and hope he rots in hell.”

Peter Walsh, chief executive of Action Against Medical Accidents, said: “It’s an extreme case, Shipmanesque. It points to poor oversight and monitoring. It should have been spotted much sooner.”

Emma Doughty, clinical negligence solicitor at law firm Slater and Gordon, which represents more than 60 victims, said: “Although we have seen hundreds of claimants, God knows how many this actually affects.

NHS scandals

“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of claimants and then we have got to think about people who haven’t come forward, people who have died. It’s on a huge scale.

“I would say, from our standpoint and what we know, there have been cover-ups since the late Nineties.”

Sara Burns, a medical negligence partner at Irwin Mitchell, said: “It is crucial that the whole healthcare industry learns from this as soon as possible.”

Heart of England NHS Trust said in a statement: “We welcome the verdict and appreciate the distress caused to Ian Paterson’s patients and families.”

A Royal College of Surgeons spokesman said: “It is now vital that all health services reflect on the lessons of this unacceptable practice.”

How victims thought Ian Paterson was saint in white coat

By Martin Evans and Katie Morley

With his convincing bedside manner and “god-like” status on the wards, Ian Paterson was able to manipulate his patients’ worst fears about cancer, persuading them to undergo whatever treatment or surgery he suggested.

Such was his reputation that concerned women across the West Midlands, and even further afield, would seek him out. Patients described how they borrowed thousands of pounds to fund operations after he told them their lives depended on it.

But the traumatic surgery was completely unnecessary, and was carried out to fund Paterson’s high-end lifestyle and luxury property empire. The Scottish-born consultant owned homes in Birmingham, Cardiff, Cheshire and the United States.

One victim said: “We all say the same, he had such a lovely manner. You felt that he was genuine and caring, and he just wasn’t like a normal consultant. He was very down to earth.

“He’d be very caring and would put you at ease. There wasn’t any reason to distrust what he was telling us.”

Leanne Joseph, 36, described how she went to her parents to raise the £1,500 for a private operation after Paterson told her scans had revealed pre-cancerous cells, convinced his swift diagnosis had probably saved her life.

During his trial, as he sat laughing and joking in the dock, jurors were told how he had “instilled complete confidence in his patients”.

Julian Christopher QC said: “He was extremely experienced and know­ledgeable in his field, which makes what happened in this case all the more extraordinary and outrageous.”

But while his patients may have been under his spell, colleagues spoke of a Jekyll and Hyde character, who could quickly turn nasty when his authority was challenged.

 Ian Paterson, a consultant, packing his bags in to his car, at his home in Edgbaston, Birmingham Credit: Andrew Fox 

One former colleague said he had “a very aggressive, bullying sort of personality, which allowed him to get his way. People would generally go around him, they were afraid of him.

“He didn’t want anyone in his way. Because of his personality he tended to be isolated and he quite liked that. People would avoid him, go around him and not deal with him. So he never got questioned or hauled up.”

Painting himself as a man at the top of his game, it was never quite clear whether his first priority was money or his reputation.

But speaking on the steps of the court, former patient Debbie Douglas said she was in no doubt that he was motivated by greed.

She said: “Money was definitely a factor, to me it was a money-making machine. He’s made people suffer and he has never given anyone any peace.

“He should suffer and he should spend a long time in jail.”

Chief Superintendent Mark Payne said: “The procedures carried out by Ian Paterson on vulnerable patients were unnecessary and caused physical suffering, scars and wounds.

“Also, as a result of his greed and ­arrogance, many of the patients have suffered psychologically, believing they needed to undergo the procedures because they were at risk from breast cancer.

“Paterson was a renowned and experienced surgeon who instilled complete confidence in his patients and therefore abused his position of trust.

“Of the 11 victims he was charged with in relation to this case, none had breast cancer, and yet he led them to believe they were at risk. This was cruel and unnecessarily led to many people suffering and living in fear.

“Paterson was a controlling bully, who played God with people’s lives so he could live a luxurious lifestyle.”

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