$45 Million for Patients Harmed by Disgraced Breast Surgeon

Zosia Chustecka

September 14, 2017

Compensation will now be paid out to patients with breast cancer who had been operated on by the disgraced British breast surgeon Ian Paterson, who was convicted in a criminal court in April 2017 of "wounding with intent," as reported at the time by Medscape Medical News.  

The criminal court case involved a sample group of 10 patients who had been treated privately by the surgeon and had undergone unnecessary surgery (because they did not actually have breast cancer) or far more extensive surgery than had been warranted. In some of these cases, a biopsy instead of invasive surgery would have been more appropriate, the prosecution argued.

Patterson, who had been struck off the General Medical Council back in 2012, was sentenced to 15 years in jail, later upped to 20 years by the Appeal Court.

The 10 patients who testified at the criminal trial are just the tip of the iceberg.

They are part of a group of around 350 patients who had been treated by Paterson in his private practice. They are all now going to receive compensation, from a fund of £37 million (approximately $45 million), the BBC reports. Much of this fund (£27.2 million) has come from the private firm, Spire Healthcare, that employed him at various small hospitals in the West Midlands, while the remaining £10 million comes from Paterson's insurers and the Heart of England National Health Service (NHS) Trust.  

That Trust has already paid out compensation to patients with breast cancer who had been treated by Paterson while he was working for the NHS as a consultant breast surgeon at the Solihull Hospital in Birmingham. In total, 256 patients whom Paterson operated on under the NHS have already received compensation, totaling nearly £18 million in damages and legal costs.

The issue with these surgeries was somewhat different from that described in the criminal case.

In his NHS work, Paterson was performing "cleavage-sparing mastectomy," a technique that he had developed himself. It gave a good cosmetic result but in some cases left breast cancer tissue behind, putting the patients at an increased risk for relapse.  

The NHS Trust stopped the cleavage-sparing mastectomies in 2007. 

The Trust then suspended Paterson in May 2011 and at that time invited all patients who had undergone a mastectomy with him "to see an alternative surgeon for a review of their treatment and care." That notice also said that he had used a technique that "was not usual procedure."  There were "justifiable concerns" that the cleavage-sparing technique was leaving patients at risk of relapse, the BBC reports.

The following year, in 2012, he was struck off the General Medical Council, and then the West Midlands police began investigating the cases of patients who had been treated in Paterson's private practice. This investigation led earlier this year to the criminal case that resulted in his being imprisoned.

Private Healthcare Company's Statement

In a statement, Spire Healthcare's  interim chief executive, Simon Gordon, said, "Earlier this year a criminal court decided that Ian Paterson must bear responsibility for his actions, finding him guilty of assaulting a number of his patients.

"He behaved with clear criminal intent and abused the trust of those who looked to him for his care and relied upon his expertise.

"However, whilst nothing diminishes Mr Paterson's responsibility for his actions, these events took place in our hospitals, and this should not have happened.

"We accept that better clinical governance in the private hospitals where Mr Paterson practised, as well as in his NHS trust, might have led to action being taken sooner, and it is right that we have made a material contribution to the settlement announced today.

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