Surgeon Who Inflated Breast Cancer Risk Jailed for 15 Years

Zosia Chustecka

May 31, 2017

The British breast surgeon Ian Paterson, who was recently found guilty of "wounding with intent" after operating on patients unnecessarily, has now been sentenced to 15 years in jail.

The criminal court had heard evidence from 10 patients who had been operated on by Mr Paterson (as British surgeons are addressed) in private clinics in the Birmingham area, supposedly for breast cancer. The prosecution argued that Mr Paterson had greatly exaggerated and in some cases even invented the risk for breast cancer, and that the surgeries were unnecessary. In some cases, a biopsy would have sufficed.

A further 350 patients who had been treated privately (under Spire Healthcare) now plan to pursue civil action against him.

"Many victims of Paterson's private practice remain embroiled in a needlessly lengthy and stressful legal process," commented Kashmir Uppal, a medical negligence lawyer with Access Legal who is involved in some of the cases. He said in an interview with the the Telegraph: "This is torturing these poor women. On top of their physical and emotional scars, they are now suffering financial hardship."

The sentence was passed down today by Justice Jeremy Baker at Nottingham Crown Court.

Mr Patterson had been found guilty of 17 counts of "wounding with intent" as well as three counts of "unlawful wounding."

Addressing Mr Patterson, the judge said: "Each of these offences reflects the injury which you caused to 10 individuals, nine women and one man, over a 14-year period between 1997-2011.

"You carried out surgical procedures on their breasts, which you knew that no responsible body of duly qualified and experienced breast surgeons would have advised, because none of the procedures was necessary to maintain their health," he continued.

"You deliberately exaggerated the risk that the patient would develop cancer, and advised either the necessity of undergoing continued surveillance of their symptoms at further consultations or, on some occasions, the undertaking of various surgical procedures," the judge said.

None of the surgical procedures...was necessary to maintain their health. Justice Jeremy Baker

"The reality was that, unbeknown to the patients, there was little, if any, need for continued surveillance, and none of the surgical procedures, which are the subject matter of these offences, was necessary to maintain their health," he added.

The sentencing remarks list in detail the surgeries and other procedures that were performed on each of the 10 patients who took part in the criminal court proceedings.

Having heard the patients' accounts and having read their victim impact statements, the judge considered that "the physical, and particularly psychological effect upon each of them, has been profound.

"All of them have suffered the pain and discomfort associated with surgery.... All of them have been left feeling violated and vulnerable, whilst some have suffered prolonged psychological conditions, including posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, which has required professional intervention and treatment.

"It is probably difficult to overstate its psychological effect upon the women to whom it took place," the judge wrote. He added that "it is best encapsulated by one of the victims, who puts it in these terms: 'Now and probably for the rest of my life, when I look in the mirror I see a victim of Paterson, who took away part of being a woman.'

"It may be that the full spectrum of your motivation for these offences will never be known," the judge continued.

"However, having observed you during the trial and listened to the evidence, including your own, I have no doubt that in pursuit of your own self-aggrandisement and the material rewards which it brought from your private practice, you lost sight of the fact that you were carrying out significant surgical procedures upon your patients," he continued.

You deliberately played upon their worst fears, either by inventing or deliberately exaggerating the risk that they would develop cancer Justice Jeremy Baker

"Without any regard for the long-term effects which it had on them, you deliberately played upon their worst fears, either by inventing or deliberately exaggerating the risk that they would develop cancer, and thereby gained their trust and confidence to consent to the surgical procedures which you carried out upon them."

In passing down the sentence, the judge noted that the maximum sentence for "wounding with intent" is life imprisonment. However, taking into consideration the circumstances of this case, including the fact that the risk posed by Mr Paterson applied only to patients whom he saw in his role as a consultant surgeon, the judge decided on a sentence of 15 years in jail.

The reality is that your medical career is at an end. Justice Jeremy Baker

"The reality is that your medical career is at an end, and you will no longer be able to practice as a Consultant General Surgeon, or to act in any other professional medical capacity," the judge concluded.

Compensation Already Paid Out to NHS Patients

While working at private clinics, Mr Paterson was also operating on breast cancer patients under the National Health Service (NHS) in Birmingham hospitals. After years of questions being raised by colleagues over his surgeries, the NHS eventually undertook an investigation and found that breast surgery that he had carried out was "not usual procedure."

The investigation found a high rate of breast cancer recurrence in patients operated on by Mr Paterson. He was using a procedure that he had devised himself and described as a "cleavage-sparing mastectomy," but in an attempt to maintain the cleavage, he was leaving behind breast cancer tissue.

So far, 256 patients whom he operated upon in his NHS practice have been paid compensation totalling nearly ₤18 million ($23.32 million) in damages and legal costs, paid by the Heart of England Foundation Trust, which covers the hospitals at which he worked.

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