Private hospital issues recall to patients dating back 26 years after shock findings

In January 2022, there were 10 operations cancelled in NHS Ayrshire & Arran, based on capacity or a non-clinical issue in the hospital. By December 2022, this increased to 71 cancelled operations
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

A private hospital has issued a message to patients dating back to 1998 as part of a major recall following an exposure of shocking failures by a prolific spinal surgeon.

Spire Healthcare are reaching out to patients who received specific spinal procedures from 1998 by John Bradley Williamson. The spinal surgeon - has been found to have caused numerous cases of severe harm to patients throughout his decades-long career.

One case includes a horrific botched operation which led to 17-year-old patient Catherine O'Connor who died from complications during surgery at Salford Royal Hospital.. A probe has found that Mr Williamson 'misled [a] coroner' over the death in 2007. The spinal surgeon - worked at hospital's in Manchester including the Royal Children's Hospital and Spire Manchester Hospital throughout his career, The MEN reports

The surgeon's time across the three hospital has come under the microscope, including by internal and independent reviews. Spire Healthcare says it has already carried out a ‘comprehensive recall of patients who underwent specific spinal procedures by Mr Williamson between 2008-2013’.

According to the private healthcare group, Mr Willamson stopped performing surgery at Spire Manchester Hospital in 2013. The group states that the five-year period and scope of patients reviewed was ‘in line with the patient recalls carried out by the local NHS Trusts, where Mr Williamson also practised’.

Spire Manchester Hospital is situated in Didsbury
Spire Manchester Hospital is situated in Didsbury -Credit:MEN

Spire says it will consider whether additional patients should be contacted, at the end of each phase of a patient recall. Based on the findings to date, Spire has announced its decision to extend the recall to cover all patients who received specific spinal procedures from 1998, when Mr Williamson started to perform surgeries at Spire Manchester, ‘to ensure that all patients have received an appropriate standard of care’.

Dr Cathy Cale, Spire Healthcare’s Group Medical Director, said: “We are committed to reviewing the care of all patients where concerns are raised. As we near the completion of the review of Mr Williamson’s patients who underwent certain procedures in the last five years that he performed surgery at Spire Manchester, we have concluded we should try to review all his patients that received these procedures.

“We recognise that it will be challenging to carry out a recall dating back to 1998 but we will endeavour to be as thorough as possible and to support those patients involved in the process.”

A review into Mr Williamson's NHS work was launched after staff at Salford Royal Hospital raised a 'significant concern'.

Northern Care Alliance (NCA), the trust which runs the hospital, instructed barrister Carlo Breen to carry out an independent investigation 'to investigate how historic concerns and complaints dating back to 2007 relating to this consultant’s conduct, probity and capability had been previously handled and what lessons could be learned'.

On Catherine O'Connor's case, referred to as 'Patient A', Mr Breen stated that the lack of a second consultant led "compounded the risks and led to higher than usual blood loss."

The expert who provided evidence to Mr Breen said: “The lack of a second consultant surgeon expressly against the advice of the MDT is unacceptable and extremely difficult to justify. That, plus the decision to proceed with an orthopaedic registrar, I believe directly contributed to the patient’s death due to the inevitably slower surgery.

"This decision in my opinion exhibits blatant disregard for the patient’s safety in such a complex case involving a physically vulnerable young person. The sad adverse outcome is predominantly due to poor decision making around fundamental aspects of safe practice.

"It is my opinion that this would in the presence of all the details be the opinion of a reasonably competent expert in this field."

The review also found there was an ‘underestimation of bleeding by the surgeon’ and ‘there was a missed opportunity to abandon surgery earlier which may have enabled control of bleeding and successful resuscitation’ of the patient. Mr Williamson then ‘misled the coroner as to the severity of the quantity of blood lost in Patient A's surgery’, said the review.

Mr Williamson reacted to the report by saying: "There are findings and conclusions with which I do not agree."

The review also detailed failures in properly investigating the death at the time, with the death being 'dismissed as an expected complication of surgery'.

The report found that in one procedure saw 'multiple misplaced screws' placed in a patient. The report found that one of these screws caused severe life-threatening haemorrhage due to direct vessel damage.

Another case said there was a 'failure to proceed with the next phase of the operation for 90 minutes, with no communication with senior colleagues, was unacceptable and could potentially have led to a significant complication with a poor outcome as a result' - with the patient then not being informed of the events that happened in their surgery.

In 2021 an inquiry into Mr Williamson's treatment of some 130 patients at Salford Royal found that the surgeon repeatedly exercised ‘unacceptable and unprofessional behaviour’, 'carried out botched surgeries with misplaced screws in patients’ spines, and 'left patients with serious blood loss, long term pain and mobility issues.'

In February, the children's hospital shared the findings of its own review, which showed evidence of patients who had suffered 'severe harm' after being treated by Mr Williamson.

The surgeon now in his 60s was employed in 1991 before being sacked from the trust in January 2015.

In response to the Breen report, Mr Williamson said: “Insofar as it related to the care provided by me, it is important to recognise that standards in many aspects of practice have changed considerably since 2006. I have always made patient care my first priority. I will consider and reflect on the findings of the report. There are findings and conclusions with which I do not agree.”

If any Spire Manchester patients have questions about the review of their care under Mr Williamson, they can email and a member of the dedicated review team will call them back.

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