Amie Pinnell, associate at South West-based specialist personal injury solicitors Harris Fowler, considers the issues involved in bringing a medical negligence action, particularly following breast surgery.
Breast cancer specialist surgeon, Ian Stuart Paterson, has been suspended by the General Medical Council following allegations that he may have performed unnecessary or inappropriate breast operations to in excess of 1,000 British women.
The GMC suspended Mr Paterson following an Interim Orders Panel meeting on October 29 and he is expected to face a full fitness to practise hearing next year.
Mr Paterson practised in Midland based NHS hospitals and private clinics where it is thought that he performed an unconventional "cleavage sparing" mastectomy on approximately 700 women suffering with breast cancer. The procedure, which has not been sanctioned in the UK and goes against national guidelines, involves a technique where some breast tissue is left around the cleavage area for cosmetic purposes. National guidelines advise that all breast tissue should be removed as failing to do so could result in the cancer returning. This procedure has caused many of the women to undergo further surgery to remove the tissue and sadly in some cases has seen the cancer return.
The procedures were reportedly carried out without advising his patients that they would be at a higher risk of their cancer returning. It is suggested he did not indicate that it was not a standard procedure and they were therefore unaware that they could be putting their lives at risk.
There are up to a further 450 women who Mr Paterson allegedly performed invasive and unnecessary lumpectomy procedures on following a suspected misdiagnosis of breast cancer instead of first carrying out a comparably simple biopsy. Some of these women therefore had surgery they didn't need too.
Undergoing any form of medical treatment can often be a distressing and upsetting process, especially when it relates to cancer as with the women in these cases, it is only right to expect the treatment received to meet the appropriate standard and not to cause further injury, illness or anguish.
The allegations here are a clear example of clinical or medical negligence. To make a successful claim for medical negligence it must be demonstrated that you have suffered either as a direct result of treatment you received or as a direct result of a lack of treatment. The treatment, or lack thereof, must then be shown to have failed to meet the medical or surgical standard expected of such a practitioner. Finally, it has to be established that the injury or illness suffered was caused as a result of the negligence and was not something which would have occurred in any event.
It is our experience that many people who have suffered as a result of medical negligence would simply like to get an apology. Unfortunately, this is rarely provided and it is only then that they seek legal advice as it is their only option of getting some redress for what they have been through. All NHS and private clinics have formal complaint procedures which should be followed by anyone who believes that they are the victim of medical negligence.
It is recommended that expert legal advice is sought as soon as possible as the negligence may not become apparent for some time after the treatment was received and a three year time limit in which a legal case must be started will apply either from the date the treatment was received or the date that they first believed an illness or injury arose as a result of the treatment.
As yet there has been no formal finding in relation to these cases, but if Mr Paterson is found to have acted negligently, the women who have suffered as a result of it will be entitled to recover compensation for the damage he has caused them and many are already pursuing medical negligence claims against him.
Harris Fowler has a dedicated medical negligence team of specialist solicitors who can advise anyone who has suffered as a result of inadequate or inept medical treatment. Free and friendly legal advice is available on 0800 213 214 or visit www.harrisfowler.co.uk Harris Fowler Limited is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority No. 558271