Disgraced Surgeon Convicted of Wounding With Intent During Unnecessary Operations
In one of the worst cases of abuses of trust, a criminal Court last month decided that surgeon Ian Paterson carried out needless operations over the course of 1997 and 2011.
Mr Paterson is thought to have mistreated hundreds of women during his career. The mistreatment is said to include not only carrying out surgery for exaggerated or invented cancer risks but also carrying out inappropriate and inadequate surgical procedures for those with a confirmed cancer diagnosis, often the ‘cleavage saving’ surgery which left dangerous malignant cells behind.
A 7 week criminal trial reviewed 10 sample cases. A jury found that Mr Paterson, who worked in hospitals in the West Midlands, carried out extensive, life-changing operations for no medically justifiable reason.
Convictions against medical professionals are rare but the traumatic nature of any such incident means they become headline news.
In the case of Mr Paterson, he has been found guilty of Wounding with Intent. The offence is committed when a person unlawfully and maliciously, with intent to do grievous bodily harm, either:
- Wounds another person; or
- Causes grievous bodily harm to another person.
It makes no difference here that the patients consented to such surgery – they did so in the false belief hat the surgery was either necessary to save their life or was appropriate for their cancer containment. Key to this is the fact that Mr Paterson knew they relied on his advice for the particular procedure and that he also knew the patient’s real risk of developing cancer.
This was a criminal trial, so the jury needed to be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that the surgeon intended to harm his patients. Harm in this case meant carrying out surgery that was not required. Beyond all reasonable doubt is a very high level of proof. The jury took the view that he gave false reports to his patients and made unjustified recommendations, persuading them to consent to unnecessary treatment. Clearly the jury felt the circumstances satisfied the high burden of proof.
Wounding with intent is a very serious offence. It carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life. Mr Paterson awaits his sentence. Given the gross breach of trust, the deliberate nature of his actions, the great damage done to each patient and the number of victims, his sentence is certain to be a lengthy term in prison.
Why Did He Do It?
Why Mr Paterson behaved this way will never be fully known. His intentions appear to have been perhaps driven by financial gain. Some victims refer to him as wanting to ‘play God’ with their lives. The police have said that they simply do not know why he did what he did.
Supervision and Regulation
The case has opened up many questions of regulation and review, particularly though not exclusively, in private hospitals.
A public inquiry has been called for and, although not outwardly asking for an inquiry, Spire Hospitals, the private operator under whom Mr Paterson carried out much of his work, has confirmed that it will co-operate with any such investigation and have launched their own internal investigation.
Sadly, it has transpired that questions were raised as to Mr Paterson’s methods of practice in 1996 (at which time he was suspended), and again in 2004. If a better inquiry had been held then, opportunities to intervene earlier might have been taken.
Mr Paterson continued to operate until mid 2011, meaning that many hundreds of patients may have been affected in a way which could have been avoided.
History shows us that from time to time there will be a bad apple working in the health sector, whether a surgeon, a GP, a nurse or any other professional. Since that seems to be unavoidable, the sector must have systems and procedures which can identify and stop them as soon as possible, not, as here, after more than a decade of life changing results.
Whether working in the NHS or in a private hospital setting, a doctor or surgeon’s duty is always to act in the best interests of the patient. The General Medical Council sets out very clearly that a key element is maintaining trust. What is clear is that Mr Paterson ignored such duties and indeed completely ignored the historic Hippocratic oath ‘first do no harm’.
If you have concerns with your treatment, either as a former patient of Mr Paterson or elsewhere, contact the clinical negligence team at Battens Solicitors.
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