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NHS pays out millions to patients of surgeon convicted of needless breast operations

The NHS has been forced to pay out almost £10m in compensation to more than 250 patients of a rogue surgeon found guilty of carrying out needless breast operations on patients who were left traumatised and scarred.

Consultant surgeon Ian Stuart Paterson, 59, was convicted on 20 counts of wounding with intent and unlawful wounding against nine women and one man on Friday. But he could have more than 1,000 more victims, among them hundreds of private patients who may never be compensated for botched and needless operations.

Paterson had denied the charges, which related to procedures he carried out between 1997 and 2011. The jury at Nottingham crown court had heard claims that the surgeon – who saw hundreds of patients a year – carried out the operations for “obscure motives”, which may have included a desire to “earn extra money”.

He denied misrepresenting patients’ test results to dupe insurers into paying for surgery, but other former patients have told the Guardian that the surgeon exaggerated or simply invented the risk of cancer and – in some cases – claimed payments for more expensive procedures that those he had carried out.

Paterson was employed by Heart of England NHS trust in 1998 – despite having been previously suspended from the Good Hope hospital in Birmingham – and also practised at privately run Spire Healthcare hospitals in the Midlands over a 13-year period.

The NHS has so far paid out around £9.5m, settling 256 cases, with 25 outstanding, the Guardian has learned. But hundreds of Paterson’s private patients may never see a penny after Paterson’s insurance company – the Medical Defence Union (MDU) – said their cover was “discretionary” and had been withdrawn. Paterson had a limited separate insurance policy of £10m, which solicitors say will not nearly cover the compensation and costs of all private patients.

Spire Healthcare, which runs the Parkway and Little Aston hospitals where Paterson treated private patients, have settled some cases but argue that as Paterson was not technically their employee, they are not responsible for his actions. The company would not divulge any details about compensation.

Sarah Jane Downing, who set up a petition, demanding compensation for Paterson’s private victims, said she had been left “shocked and appalled” at the lack of redress.

“Many of these people chose private healthcare because they bought into those promises in the glossy brochures. And now we have realised that those promises are not worth the paper they are printed on. It’s utterly devastating.”

At a recent coffee morning for former Paterson patients, many described the consultant’s “brilliant” bedside manner. “He was so lovely, I thought I was so lucky – I thought I was being looked after,” said Elaine Diskin, who had eight operations by Paterson over as many years.

Her husband, Mike, also had a deep respect for the surgeon – so much so that when he had a pain in his chest, he went to him and did not hesitate when the surgeon said he suspected lipoma and that they “had to get it out”.

“Sinister was the word he used,” Diskin said. “I had no reason to doubt him because he was looking after Elaine so well.”

They trusted Paterson so much they also recommended his care to a friend, who went on to have a lump removed. “We used to joke that we’d paid for his skiing holidays,” said Elaine Diskin.

After the Diskins were recalled for a review of their treatment in 2012 they discovered that at least seven of the eight operations Paterson had done on Elaine – along with both performed on her husband and their friend – were unnecessary.

A civil case with seven “test” cases – which will determine to what extent Spire can be held liable for Paterson’s work in their hospitals – is scheduled to be heard in October, but looks likely to be delayed. The outcome will affect all the private patients who have brought civil claims – and who fear they may get nothing.

Solicitors familiar with the case say Spire has made a handful of payments – the largest about £150,000 – to former patients in the private sector which include unnecessary removal of lumps and the received“cleavage-sparing mastectomies”, a controversial operation that left breast tissue behind after the removal of cancerous cells.

Concerns about Paterson were raised as far back as 2003. But despite several internal and external investigations and complaints from patients, GPs and other surgeons he was only suspended by the General Medical Council in 2011. “In every profession you get rogue operators – but there are checks and balances to stop terrible things happening,” said Mike Diskin. “Why were there not in this case, or why were they ignored?”

Timeline

1998: Paterson is hired as a consultant surgeon at the Heart of England NHS trust, despite being previously suspended from the Good Hope hospital, and also sees private patients at Spire Healthcare hospitals Little Aston and Parkway.

2003: Paterson is investigated because of concerns about “cleavage-sparing mastectomies”. Recommendations are not followed through.

2007: Breast surgeon Hemant Ingle is appointed and with others raises concerns. Further investigations are carried out and Paterson is told to stop performing “cleavage-sparing mastectomies”. Mark Goldman, chief executive of the Heart of England NHS trust, informs Spire that the trust is investigating Paterson.

2008: Two GPs complain about Paterson’s treatment of a patient, saying he gave misleading information about pathology reports, over-treated patients and disregarded the multidisciplinary team meeting process. Another report is critical.

2009: A Spire Parkway patient makes a formal complaint about Paterson. No action is taken. Heart of England NHS trust recalls 12 patients who have had “cleavage-sparing mastectomies”. West Midlands Cancer Intelligence Unit submits two further reports.

2010: The General Medical Council (GMC) tells Spire Parkway executives about a complaint from an NHS patient. .

2011: Parkway were informed Paterson had carried out a “cleavage-sparing mastectomy” in 2009 after being told to stop in January 2008. A month later the GMC informed Spire about another patient complaint. A total recall of all Paterson’s patients begins.

Paterson is suspended by the NHS in May 2011 but continues to perform breast surgery for Spire until 31 May and general surgery until 8 June 2011. He is paid until November 2012.