Oncologist's Tribunal Resumes After Expert Witness' 'Misleading' Evidence

Ian Leonard

September 07, 2021

MANCHESTER—Cancer expert Professor Karol Sikora has blamed "confusion" and his poor memory for providing "misleading" information to the medical tribunal involving leading oncologist Professor Justin Stebbing.

Prof Sikora, who's been giving evidence for the defence, was forced to consult lawyers when the tribunal was dramatically halted on Friday after he said he'd obtained summaries relating to three patients by "ways and means" from undisclosed sources.

It led Sharon Beattie QC, for the GMC, to raise concerns about the truthfulness of his testimony and his involvement as a witness and the tribunal today heard that he could "put himself at risk of investigation" if he continued to give evidence.

That was due to "inconsistencies" in documents he'd since provided to the tribunal, but Prof Sikora told panel chair Hassan Khan that he was satisfied with the legal advice he'd received and wanted to continue.

Prof Justin Stebbing

Inappropriate Treatment

Prof Stebbing, a cancer medicine and oncology professor at Imperial College London with a private practice in Harley Street, is appearing before a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) fitness to practise hearing and is accused of failing to provide good clinical care to 12 patients between March 2014 and March 2017.

He faces 36 charges - 21 of which he's admitted - which include allegations that he inappropriately treated patients given their advanced cancer or poor prognosis, overstated life expectancy and the benefits of chemotherapy, and continued to treat patients when it was futile and they had just weeks to live.

Prof Sikora told the tribunal that his original account of how he'd obtained the patient records was incorrect and he'd "completely forgotten" about the involvement of lawyers who'd provided him with documents.

The summaries he'd referred to actually related to four patients - not three - and had been written by himself, he said.

He accepted this was a "completely different" version of events, which had happened more than 4 years ago, and blamed a "lapse of memory".

"I can assure you there were no medical records given to me other than by lawyers," he said.

"I apologise for getting confused by it."

Retraction

Sharon Beattie reminded Prof Sikora that he'd previously told the tribunal that one individual had provided him with a "set of summaries" but he didn't want to name and "betray" them.

"Well, I would love to be able to retract the evidence from Friday because it's just not true," he said.

"I spoke to several oncology consultants at Hammersmith [Hospital] but I received nothing in writing in any form."

He said he'd "reflected on his performance on Friday" and was "sad" he hadn't remembered about the lawyers' involvement.

"All I can say is I apologise to misleading, it wasn't deliberate and there was nothing in writing from anybody before I got records couriered by Baffa [a medical lawyer]," he said.

Mr Khan also asked Professor Sikora to clarify why he'd originally said one unnamed person had provided him patient documents.

He replied that he'd spoken to "one or two colleagues at Hammersmith" and believed they may have provided them but he "couldn't remember" where they came from.

Fatherly Chat

Ms Beattie also questioned Prof Sikora about how he'd become involved in the case.

He said he had a "casual" meeting and a "fatherly chat" with Prof Stebbing over a coffee in the Summer of 2017 - before he'd received any information on patients - and offered his help.

Lawyers had then instructed him in February 2018 and he'd received patient records the following month.

Ms Beattie said Prof Sikora had previously told the tribunal "this was the only time" he'd ever approached a defendant or plaintiff in a medical case and offered to appear as an expert witness and he'd believed the case against Prof Stebbing was "unfair".

A "fatherly chat" wasn't an "independent" opinion, she said, and a "particular agenda" could be reflected in expert opinion.

Earlier, Ms Beattie and Prof Stebbing's QC Mary O'Rourke expressed concerns that Prof Sikora may not have received sufficient legal advice form the Medical Defence Union (MDU) before offering to continue giving evidence.

Inconsistencies

Ms O'Rourke said she had reservations relating to his chronology of events and the inconsistencies in his evidence.

She told Mr Khan he "could talk himself into a lot more trouble" in front of his own regulator and "put himself at risk of a GMC investigation".

"Ms Beattie used the words, 'So you deliberately lied you the tribunal,'" Ms O'Rourke said.

"Deliberately lying to a tribunal is obviously serious and when that tribunal is a tribunal of your own regulator that seriousness could multiply by four."

She said she was concerned that Prof Sikora would be "exposed' to further cross-examination and if he continued giving evidence it may "further damage his evidence, his independence, and his credibility".

Prof Sikora is due to give 3 more days of evidence.

The tribunal continues.

Prof Sikora comments on cancer issues for Medscape UK.

Ian Leonard is a freelance journalist experienced in covering MPTS hearings.

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