Having represented nine victims of the disgraced breast surgeon Ian Paterson in claims for compensation for their suffering, it was most welcome to see this week an agreement in principle finally reached to settle all claims.
Paterson carried out hundreds of unnecessary breast operations on women for more than 10 years before finally being caught, misleading patients into believing they needed lumps removing, and then placing them under review in future years.
These actions meant he not only subjected many women to surgery which was not needed, but also impacted on their long-term psychological wellbeing.
Women were not only physically scarred from surgery, but mentally scarred as they lived in fear of developing breast cancer, with some even taking life-changing decisions such as not to have more children as a result.
The case has been difficult in legal terms. Paterson worked at various times for the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and at private healthcare provider Spire Healthcare’s Little Aston and Parkway hospitals between 1997 and 2011.
This led to a dispute as to who was responsible for his actions. Although he conducted much of his private practice on Spire’s premises, he was not technically employed by them.
The fact that his actions were considered to be criminal acts resulted in difficulties with the civil claim for damages for clinical negligence.
My worry in all of this was that the victims, who I know personally have suffered so much, could have been the forgotten people and left with no right to compensation at all, as the case was due to go to trial with millions of pounds at stake for those facing claims.
I know his criminal sentence, which was recently extended to 20 years from the original 15 years after the criminal appeals court felt the original sentence was too lenient, was welcomed by the nine clients I have been representing.
They will all also be relieved to hear of the £37m fund being agreed and offered to more than 700 victims between Spire Healthcare and its co-defendants, including the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and Paterson’s insurers.
My clients found themselves at the centre of a legal wrangle after being victims of the most despicable of crimes. Their suffering is not something a prison sentence for Paterson or financial compensation can ever help to heal.
The unnecessary operations and procedures ranged from biopsies and lumpectomies through to a non standard modified mastectomy called a cleavage sparing mastectomy.
This is where a significant amount of residual breast tissue was left following Mr Paterson’s surgery, which far from having the intended effect of improving the cosmetic effects, condemned some of his patients to a risk of recurrence and metastatic spread and everything that brings with it in terms of poor prognosis.
Subsequently, many have then had to endure multiple further operations, living for up to 10 years fearing themselves to be at a higher risk of cancer due to Paterson’s initial rogue diagnosis.
Should this combined compensation offer be approved in the High Court next month, I wonder if that will be the last time we ever see something like this happening?
Spire says Paterson’s offending – both in his NHS Trust and in the private sector – was unprecedented in terms of scale and impact, and that it is ‘determined to learn the lessons’ to ensure something similar can never happen again.
It is clear there was systematic failure to identify and prevent him from harming patients over many years, something we at Hudgell Solicitors see far too often within hospital environments where there is often a hierarchical culture which makes it difficult for staff to raise concerns about senior colleagues.
Equally, trusts can become too obsessed on meeting targets, such as for number of procedures completed against waiting times, rather than fully assessing over patient safety.
Our teams at Hudgell Solicitors have sadly represented victims of other senior medical figures in recent times who have been able to commit criminal offences for many years against those they are supposed to be caring for.
It is certainly hard to comprehend that nobody who worked with Paterson became suspicious earlier.
Simon Gordon, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Spire, admits that whilst Paterson acted with ‘clear criminal intent’ alone, the crimes took place in its hospitals, and that with better clinical governance in both the private hospitals where he practised, as well as in his NHS Trust, action may have been taken sooner.
It is for that reason that compensation is now being offered, and for that very same reason that all healthcare providers should see this case as a reason for reviewing their own policies and governance and of consultants, whilst taking steps to ensure all staff feel able to raise any concerns about colleagues at any time.