UK surgeon accused of misdiagnosing cancer to perform unnecessary surgeries on women

So-called "rogue surgeon" Ian Paterson has been suspended by Britain's General Medical Council after accusations he performed "unnecessary or inappropriate" breast operations on over a thousand women in the UK.

Investigators claim he misdiagnosed at least 450 of those women with breast cancer when they were in fact cancer-free, performing unnecessary mastectomies and lumpectomies, and placing them on brutal treatment regimens when they had no cancer to treat.

There are testimonies from some of the women here. One of the falsely diagnosed women even planned her own funeral, believing she had advanced metastatic disease. Some of the women are suing the hospitals that allowed this to happen.

Going through surgery, chemo, radiation, and drug treatment for breast cancer was, for me, a living nightmare. It has left me feeling violated, damaged, and broken. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like for these women, who didn't even have the disease in the first place. Words truly fail me. If the claims are true, and he did what he did for some kind of perverse pleasure from harming others, I hope this sicko ends up in jail for the rest of his life.

(photo: Accused breast surgeon Ian Paterson, via Guardian. HT: Gordon Rae )


  1. I’m not super familiar with the UK health system.  Can you get a second opinion when you’re diagnosed with something major?

    1.  That’s a core part of an ethical heathcare system. It doesn’t matter who’s paying for it.

      Even when your second opinion is free/fully covered by your insurance/whatever, many people don’t seek them – they trust their doctors so it never crosses their mind, or they think it would be rude to go ask for a second opinion and they don’t want to deal with the (in their minds) awkward social situation this would cause.

      1. Agreed, and patients need to be better educated about their rights in this regard. Every doctor should encourage their patients to seek a second opinion. I would question any doctor who discouraged their patients from doing so.

  2. It takes more than 1 person to perform a surgery. It takes more than 1 person to keep the patient files up to date and schedule procedures. How does this happen? Surely someone else noticed that he was faking unnecessary surgery.  What happens when you open someone up and what you are going to cut out isn’t there, do the rest of the nurses and doctors just play along? I think there should be a long line of other names being investigated.

    1. If it’s not a teaching hospital, there might not be anyone else in the OR who would pay enough attention to that aspect of what’s going on. You’d think that the pathologist would notice something, though.

      1. It’s called M&M. “Morbidity and Mortality,” a within-hospital peer review process. It’s a tradition and should exist in every hospital. Doctors in a department are supposed to sit in a room once every week or two, look at the pathology slides, outcomes, diagnoses, treatments, complications, etc., and discuss what comes up.  “Ian, you’re doing a lot of mastectomies lately, tell us about them.”  I blame the whole hospital, not just this one f-tard.

        1. M&Ms should catch things. But my personal experience is that, if the physician in question is the head of the department or a big money-maker or politically connected, things get glossed over. We had an aged surgeon who was raking in donations for the hospital. And 50% of his thyroidectomies were going back to the OR for hematomas.

    2. He is a quack and the trust, his colleagues are accomplices.  I know how it works.  Every patient diagnosed with cancer is discussed in a meeting involving other surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, oncologists, breast nurse, other junior doctors and his own team of doctors.  Here they confirm this to be cancer, and discuss the best type of treatment that has to be rendered to the patient.  This happens though out the country.  If this has not happened of if no one has taken notice of this then all of them are culpable.  GMC should look into the colleagues who did not take notice of this and suspend them as well not just the culprit.

  3. And what if rather than for perverse enjoyment from harming others, he did it just for profit?  Just to support his medical practice? And what if all the other medical professionals involved simply failed to pay attention, and maybe just looked the other way if they ever suspected, again purely for profit?

    1. My father was a surgeon.  He told me once that the vast majority of surgeries that he did were pointless. I asked why, and he said, “Look, I run a business. And they asked me what I could do. I can operate, or I can give them a prescription. So I tell them their options, and if they pick surgery then I do that.”

      I suspect that most doctors are little different.

      1. Dermatology or plastic surgeon? The vast majority of appendicitises for example, are necessary. Depends on the type of doctor we are talking about for your story to be instructive.

        1. Orthopedic surgeon.  Knees, back, and neck surgeries.  He said the hip replacements actually worked, but other surgeries he performed “might help for a little while, but *their* bodies are *their* bodies.”  He’d then list off stupid things people did, especially playing high school tackle football (lifelong knee problems).

          His point was that doctors aren’t responsible for your health.  You are.  Doctors run a business where they can do what they *can* do.  That’s all.  

          He often went on to say that the vast majority of his patients (at emergency rooms or his clinic) would get better on their own, especially if they got some mild daily exercise.  “They just want somebody to talk to — to complain about their lives, their hard times.”  So he felt perfectly justified in taking their money for useless (often harmful) treatments.  

          I’d get pinned down by people he’d operated on from time to time, and they would explain how he’d ruined their lives, etc.  I see it as a zero responsibility cycle; people turn over their “healthcare” — actually, disease management — to doctors, who take no personal responsibility for the state of *your* health.  So bad things happen, all the time, with patients losing lots of money and doctors making lots from them.  

          Their patients die, for various reasons, all the time, so there is nothing unusual or noteworthy about that. As long as they follow their checklists (to prevent lawsuits), they don’t usually worry about that; that’s life.  So, in comparison, your aches and pains are nothing to them.
          I tell this to everyone I know who is contemplating knee or other surgeries, including removal of benign, non-growing “cancerous tumors.” If it’s benign, and it’s not growing, it isn’t “CANCER” (duhn duhn duuuuuhhnn)…  It’s a boat payment.

          1. Good stuff here, thanks.   Also, it should be mentioned a huge number of ortho problems (health in general too) stem from being overweight.  But if your knee is worn down from arthritis and you are 100 lbs overweight, do you immediately diet hard to drop the weight?  No, you go get your knees replaced.  Why?  Because they freakin’ HURT and you want the hurt to go away.  Personally, I’m not above putting people in a cage and rationing their calories, but that’s just the sadistic bastard in me, is why I’m not a doctor.  ymmv

        2. I’m sure you meant “appendectomies”, because what you had said would equate to trolling for the surgeon, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what you’re doing.

  4. This is one of typical examples of sociopaths who’ll do anything for money.  Ditto with some unethical doctors who perform unnecessary cesarean operations instead of normal deliveries.

  5. From the innocent hospital personnel assigned to brief the 450+ women on the truth of their diagnosis and treatment:

    “I have good news, and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?”

  6. If this was in a horror movie it would probably not get a release. This will haunt my dreams tonight. Aaaaarrgh!

  7. Jack the Ripper (speculated to be a doctor), Harold Shipman, this guy… WTF British medical establishment?

    1. Is the inclusion of the word “British” trying to make a point? It’s not necessary.
      And to break your sentence down – Jack the Ripper – speculation. This guy – currently accused, not proven yet. So in reality we are left with Harold Shipman, hardly a damnation on the “British” medical profession is it?

      1. I didn’t mean to offend, I’m a total anglophile.
        3 individuals, one centuries ago, is not intended to be a damnation of British doctors. Jack’s identity, nationality, profession is really just speculation. It’s entirely historical curiousity that I brought it up. I think the NHS, BMJ are fine institutions, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with British doctors. I guess I know of Dr. Mengele, but I don’t know many examples of seeminginly pathological doctors. There was Freeman, the American who had an unusual enthusiasm for lobotomies, but who thought he was doing the patients a favor. When American doctors are accused of such crime, it turns out it was actually the one armed man all the time.

        1. Crippen was American. On the other hand, he was a homeopath- which is why his attempt to poison his wife failed and he had to shoot her instead…

  8. I have had a very different gut reaction to my own surgeries, chemo, etc. than you have, Xeni, but the thought that someone — let alone 450 people — had to go through all this FOR NO MEDICAL REASON is where we are entirely on the same page.  That is some sick fuck to put those women through that.  I can think of no other explanation than sociopathy.

  9. What a piece of work is man. The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals.

    Funny, I never heard of a rhino torturing another one for a buck.

  10. Shipman killed lots. English Doctor, not spotted by the NHS. Eventually his undoing was forging a will for cash.

    Errors and not detecting people like these doctors is rampant. The NHS’s own estimates are that they kill 20-80,000 a year. 

    I know of two cases where patients were killed because they didn’t give them drinks. In one case, the patient left notes describing what was going on. 

    A couple of hundred were killed in one hospital because they couldn’t/didn’t clean the place. 

  11. He could also face criminal investigation following allegations he made claims to medical insurers for unnecessary surgeries or surgeries he did not perform.

    Two of Paterson’s private breast cancer patients have told the Guardian that they have discovered that Paterson “miscoded” their procedures – submitting claims to insurance companies for more expensive procedures than those which he had actually performed.

    It sounds like it was mainly a profit thing, which doesn’t make it any less sick, disgusting and disturbing. If he is guilty not only should his licence be revoked, he should be jailed and his assets should be seized as they’re likely at least partially paid for through proceeds of crime.

  12. Take a deep breath, drop the pitchforks, step back and calm down…
    Firstly, if Paterson has done what is alleged then he will have let down his patients, his profession and the NHS. He will be deserving of the full force of the law, both in the criminal and civil courts.

    However, just as people ‘stopped and searched’ by the police are not always guilty and prisons not infrequently house people who don’t deserve to be there; not everyone who is suspended by the General Medical Council has the complaints against them upheld.

    It may be that he is guilty, but one of the worst parts about a registering body hearing is that the doctor concerned is completely unable to answer any questions put to him by the press because of patient confidentiality rules. That silence implies guilt to to general public and annoys the press who are free to publish whatever allegations they wish. Patients are permitted to speak out as they please. The whole situation is demeaning and damaging to all concerned. Doctor suicide during GMC ‘Fitness to Practice’ hearings is not uncommon for these reasons.

    If he’s guilty, I’ll be one of the first in line with a metaphorical rope — that isn’t how I practice or was trained and every rogue doctor that erodes public trust in my profession makes my job a little bit harder. But in the meantime, how about we lay off and remember that he’s a human being, he has family and friends and they’re all going through hell over this. I know this because I’ve seen it happen to (entirely innocent, later exonerated) colleagues. Save the vilification for after the verdict and maybe campaign for privacy until the verdict — it protects both patients and practitioners involved.

    1. Did you read the article?  It appears that, at least, he performed 700 unsanctioned “cleavage-sparing” mastectomies.

      1. I did read the article. Did you actually read the substance of my reply?

        For the tl;dr crowd it was thus: If he’s guilty then I’ll join you all in throwing the book at him. Meanwhile, he is suspended pending a hearing, so he is innocent until proven guilty and is completely unable to make an answer to any public criticism. So why try him in the court of public opinion in the meantime?

        GMC ‘Fitness to Practice’ hearings are a brutal process and lead to 10-12 doctor suicides a year in the UK. I know we top ourselves with monotonous regularity, but that is way outside the norm…

      2. In the context of this article ‘unsanctioned’ means that they were not recommended by national guidelines.  Guidelines, however, are just that – guidelines.  They change depending on research and evidence and sometimes vary widely between countries and even NHS Trusts.
        Although that is part of the issue, it is dwarfed quite considerably by the accusations that unnecessary operations were carried out on healthy women and that coding errors were committed to maximise financial gain from insurance companies.  This is accusation, however,  and not proven fact.

    2. For 450 of the women, they didn’t come forward.  They had their cases reviewed, and it was noticed in his own records that there were no signs of cancer before their surgery.  Unless there’s an investigator as pathological as the doctor seems to be, it seems reasonable to suspect he was criminally negligent. It would be remarkable if he was just really bad at writing notes, and forgot to mention all the tumours he discovered, this would also be potentially putting their lives at risk as there were no detailed records to review in case of recurrence.  If you have an alternative likely explanation for the 450 misdiagnoses, I’d be interested in hearing it.  While the hearings may be unduly harsh in many or most instances, it’s hard to believe this is one of those instances. 

        1. I read the article. Different sources suggest 450 cases where noncancerous lumps were removed.  While there are cases were where it’s not known if a patient has cancer until after surgery, this seems exceptional. The tissue removed is of course examined, and a pathology report given. The path report will give more info, but when no sign of cancer is found, the patient must be informed that “no you did not have cancer”.  He was not informing patients of this, and for some prescribed Tamoxifen. 

          1. It may well be exceptional, or it may not: studies of breast cancer diagnosis show error rates as high as 20%, and I’ve seen a study of breast cancer tumor board reviews where over 50% of the original interpretations were found sufficiently inadequate to warrant a change in treatment.

    1. There was a surgeon a couple of decades ago known as the gynecologist from hell.  He reconfigured hundreds or thousands of women to move the clitoris into the vagina and other “tweaks” pretty much every time he did any surgery or as a stand-alone that he told them was necessary.  They all ended up with painful, dysfunctional genito-urinary systems.

  13. This actually happened to my mother. Thankfully he only gave her an unnecessary biopsy rather than anything else. He was operating privately through my father’s work healthcare – but they still had to pay a great deal of excess on the cover, told her she had cancerous cells she never had and set her up for regular at risk check-ups she didn’t need.

    Evil fucker.

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