Ian Paterson – surgeon gets 15 years for unnecessary operations on 10...

Ian Paterson – surgeon gets 15 years for unnecessary operations on 10 people

Photo from the BBC


It was always bound to be a high profile case, as well as a puzzling one. Dr Ian Paterson was someone held in high regard – a doctor and, by his mid 30s, a consultant General Surgeon. In many ways he had it all.

Thus it was an extremely long fall when, on 31st May 2017, he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment at Nottingham Crown Court.



Between 1997 and 2011, Dr Paterson would have operated on thousands of people. Presumably in many cases there was a legitimate medical need and they would have passed without note.

In many others, however, it was alleged that he operated when there was no clinical need. All the patients affected were referred to him as there was a concern that they were suffering from breast cancer (so far the NHS has paid compensation to 256 patients, with a further 25 claims still outstanding).

Dr Paterson would conduct an examination of the area, following which there would be a mammogram and an ultrasound. In all the cases the result of this would be that there was little or no indication of a heightened risk of breast cancer.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Dr Paterson exaggerated the risks and “advised either the necessity of undergoing continued surveillance of their symptoms at further consultations, or, on some occasions, the undertaking of various surgical procedures” in circumstances “that no responsible body of duly qualified and experienced breast surgeons would have advised” was necessary.

Ten patients were chosen for the trial as representatives. There were actually 20 Counts on the indictment as some patients had more than one procedure and Dr Paterson faced a count for each procedure.



Dr Paterson faced 20 counts (probably all alleging an offence of wounding with intent under s18). The jury convicted of 17 counts of s18, as well as three counts of the lease serious offence of wounding without intent.

Charges for this are normally brought when one person attacks another – a pub fight with a glassing would be a good example. However, any ‘wound’ will count.

And as a wound is any injury that breaks the continuity of the skin. So, any time a surgeon cuts into a body they are ‘wounding’ them. Of course, this doesn’t normally involve committing an offence, because medical procedures are legal.

As was explained in the famous case of Brown – “Many of the acts done by surgeons would be very serious crimes if done by anyone else, and yet the surgeons incur no liability. Actual consent, or the substitute for consent deemed by the law to exist where an emergency creates a need for action, is an essential element in this immunity; but it cannot be a direct explanation for it, since much of the bodily invasion involved in surgery lies well above any point at which consent could even arguably be regarded as furnishing a defence. Why is this so? The answer must in my opinion be that proper medical treatment, for which actual or
deemed consent is a pre-requisite. It is in a category of its own.

However, where the procedure is carried out in circumstances like this, the offence is committed. There was a trial, at the conclusion of which the jury concluded that they were sure that Dr Paterson knowingly and deliberately carried out surgery that he knew was unnecessary.


Why did he do it?

The answer to this is not clear, and it may well be that it is an extremely complicated mixture of motives that are impossible to unravel.

The trial Judge (who would be best placed to assess) said : “It may be that the full spectrum of your motivation for these offences will never be known. However, having observed you during the trial, and listened to the evidence, including your own, I have no doubt that in pursuit of your own self-aggrandisement and the material rewards which it brought from your private practice, you lost sight of the fact that you were carrying out significant surgical procedures upon your patients, and that, without any regard for the long-term effects which it had on them, you deliberately played upon their worst fears, either by inventing or deliberately exaggerating the risk that they would develop cancer, and thereby gained their trust and confidence to consent to the surgical procedures which you carried out upon them“.



The Judge’s sentencing remarks have been published. They are very well set out and very readable, and should certainly be read by anybody with an interest in the case.

In essence, he started with the Sentencing Guidelines. It was identified as a Category 1 case – see page 4 of the Guidelines and para 68 of the Sentencing Remarks.

This gives a starting point of 12 years, and a range of 11-16 years. Here, the Judge balanced the aggravated features that were undoubtedly present (particularly the multiple offending) with the mitigating features that were again undoubtedly there, and came to the conclusion that it was not necessary to go above the range, but a sentence towards the top would suffice.

Although there may well be an attempt to appeal, and because of the unusual nature of the case the Court of Appeal may well think it appropriate to hear it, we would be surprised if it was successful. It may well be that the Attorney-General will be under pressure to review the sentence, but the Judge seems to have done an excellent job of explaining the reasons behind the sentence that he passed.



  1. What an appalling tragedy.

    As you rightly say Mr Paterson – surgeons are Mister or Ms (or Miss or Mrs if they prefer and some do) in this country even though they have to be doctors first – probably did a great deal of good too. But then there was all this going on.

    “And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer
    Never to hope again”.

    Like you I do not see any prospect of a successful appeal, or of an A-G’s application being made. The sentence was near the top of the guidelines. And I don’t think any surgeon who needed deterring would be deterred by more than sixteen but not by fifteen years.

  2. In my view, this is lenient. It would be right for a single offence, but I don’t think the judge’s remarks give sufficient weight to the 17 separate S18 offences he was charged with and the 100s he wasn’t charged with.

  3. Biscwuit, the Judge certainly did give sufficient weight to the ‘100s he wasn’t charged with’, and it was zero. Which in law is pricely the weight that ought to be given.

    • And that’s okay is it Keogh imagine if he’d gone around lopping nuts off of blokes left right and centre. Let’s give zero weight to that because…

      • LES, you are becoming extremely tiresome in your constant calls for the law to ride roughshod over the presumption of innocence where it suits your brand of innuendo and supposition (as well as your constant sexist comments). The court cannot sentence for allegations that were not brought before it — end of.

        If you or Biscwuit believe that additional charges should have been brought, then go take it up with the CPS. As it is, I’m sure they will have given appropriate consideration to which allegations carried the best prospect of conviction, and how many charges it was in the public interest to pursue in view of the extra public expenditure entailed in proving each additional allegation and the diminishing likely impact on sentence in the event of further convictions.

  4. Mention of private practice, so money the likely driver. Consultants are highly paid within the NHS and if they do private work their income rockets. No issue with that but for some the thought of money may cloud their ethical judgement. Not saying its the case here but the judge seems to be hinting at it.