SOLIHULL-based writer Sarah Jane Downing runs a support group for around 100 Paterson survivors and family members which has reacted to today’s inquiry findings.
Sarah had surgery with Paterson at Spire Parkway in 1998 after finding a lump in her breast. Instead of removing potentially cancerous tissue he removed perfectly healthy tissue.
The Bloomsbury author of heritage books including Fashion in the Time of William Shakespeare and Beauty and Cosmetics 1550 to 1950, says the Inquiry recommendations must now be put into practice.
She said: “It has been quite emotional to have so many people who’ve all been through the same thing together. The patients and families met at 10am where we were told of the recommendations.
“The recommendations were good and a couple stood out. The recommendation for the regulation of insurance for patients in cases like this is really good and it’s in line with a petition I started for compensation years ago.
“The recommendation to introduce a short period of time for patients to reflect on their diagnosis and treatment options before giving their consent to surgery is very good and it’s going to be applicable to other situations.
“What comes next is to make sure the government takes on the recommendations and they are adhered to. I think most people are hopeful. We have each been given a contact in the Department of Health so we can follow through. The important thing for us is making sure they are doing what they say they will do. I will follow up and speak to them.
“The new Meriden MP, Saqib Bhatti, attended our meeting last weekend and promised he will follow up in Parliament.”
While the NHS settled legal cases and paid damages to affected Paterson patients, private healthcare provider Spire Parkway delayed making payments claiming that as the rogue surgeon was not technically their employee, they are not responsible for his actions.
In September 2015 Ms Downing launched a petition with the support of fellow patients, Thompsons Solicitors and local MPs urging Spire to provide much-needed compensation and closure to patients of the convicted consultant breast surgeon.
Semi-retired German-born journalist, model and interpreter Johanna Thomson (pictured with Ms Downing above), was living in Hampton-in-Arden at the time she discovered a lump in one breast, aged 39. It followed a hysterectomy at Spire Parkway after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Her GP, who she trusted, had recommended Paterson, saying he was a “lovely man”.
Johanna was advised by Paterson to have a double-mastectomy. But after a chance conversation in which she mentioned she was a journalist, Paterson changed his prognosis and offered her a lumpectomy instead.
She said: “In fact what I had was an infected breast gland and all I needed was a course of antibiotics! But because you are so numb with fear – I thought I was riddled with cancer – it was a relief. I thought: ‘a lumpectomy I can cope with that’.
Since the operation, the experience and shock of the subsequent court case has left her with a “deep-rooted fear” and mistrust of doctors.
Johanna said: “Our general opinion I share with my fellow sufferers is that the report has been very thorough and what they’ve done is remarkable. But the irony is that while this has been going they have found this other chap at Spire Parkway doing something similar. It’s all happening again. Who can you trust if you can’t trust your doctor. All that trust is so shaken. How can someone get away with it for so long, like Harold Shipman? Lessons must be learnt.”
Another of Paterson’s former patients Lesley Cuthbert said: “The Inquiry at least meant that many of Paterson’s victims had the chance for their voice to be heard. Indeed, the terms of reference of the Inquiry were widened extensively as a result of consultation with patients and interested parties. It’s pleasing to know that the victim’s contributions were clearly taken into account.
“However, whatever the Inquiry concludes or recommends, many of those who, like me, were harmed by this man still feel anxious in the light of the latest revelations about further wrongdoings by two other surgeons at Spire Parkway and the notice from the Coroner’s Office concerning further investigation into some of the unnecessary deaths at the hands of Mr Paterson.”
“Vulnerable patients like me were taken advantage of by a supposedly highly respected senior consultant who was given a high level of responsibility and autonomy in the private sector. We need better monitoring of surgeons operating in the private healthcare sector including independent and rigorous appraisals together with proper investigation of any concerns raised about a surgeon by his colleagues and patients. Ideally, there ought to be a duty on medical professionals to report issues to the GMC promptly.”
What does the Inquiry mean to both the NHS and the private medical sector?
Kashmir Uppal from Shoosmiths’ medical negligence team in Birmingham, said: “The Inquiry must make recommendations which protect patient safety in the NHS and private sector including proper protection of ‘whistle-blowers’.
“When management at the Trust failed to take effective steps to ‘control’ Mr Paterson, medical colleagues should have felt confident enough to report Ian Paterson’s practices outside the Trust to organisations such as the GMC, and had the GMC taken the requisite action at that time, i.e. in 2003, Mr Paterson could and should have been stopped.
“It is also clear too that the patient recall process was flawed in both the private and NHS sectors. It’s essential that any recommendations for an improved process will ensure patients are informed of incidents that affect them much earlier. We hope that the Inquiry’s conclusions and recommendations will enhance future private and NHS healthcare patient protection so that an Ian Paterson can never happen again.”
Regarding regulation and liability in the private healthcare sector Kashmir continues:
“It is estimated that more than 1,000 women and men could have suffered at the hands of Paterson. Those he treated in the NHS received compensation relatively promptly. But victims who underwent surgery carried out at private Spire Healthcare hospitals, often after referral from the NHS or being lied to about ‘lengthy waiting lists’ for procedures and the need for speedy surgery, had to wait and fight hard for any compensation or admission of liability at all.”
Thompsons Solicitors, which represented 650 of Ian Paterson’s victims, has also responded to the Independent Inquiry’s findings.
Linda Millband, national practice lead for clinical negligence at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “ “For there to be real change following the Inquiry’s report, the focus must not be on what Paterson did or didn’t do, but how he got away with it.
“The report calls for fundamental reforms in the private medical sector and if we want to avoid seeing the horrors of Paterson again, the recommendations must be acted upon by the sector and enforced without fear or favour by the government. Anything less would be an insult the hundreds of women and men whose lives have been forever changed by Paterson.
“If we are going to hold our heads up as a country with excellent healthcare, then regardless of where a patient goes for treatment, they should be able to expect the same level of support, professionalism and insurance cover. Up to now that has simply not been the case in the private sector.
“Private hospitals have at long last been exposed for not fully informing their patients (whether privately funded or referred by the NHS) about how care is organised differently than the NHS. The difference in insurance cover and the lack of emergency provision, not to mention the absence or questionable quality of their multidisciplinary team working at private hospitals has been laid bare for all to see.
“Spire Healthcare sought to shrug off Paterson patients as if they were a nuisance, daring to challenge their hospitals’ way of working. The report makes clear that there has to be corporate accountability and that there is no excuse for evading liability.
“The private healthcare sector has sometimes been considered better than the NHS, but the Inquiry’s report explodes that myth. Private healthcare providers cannot be allowed to crawl back under the stone that has been lifted by the Independent Inquiry’s report and carry on in their secretive ways”.