Surgeon `caused death of patients'

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The Independent Online
AN INQUIRY into a consultant surgeon who dismissed a patient with breast cancer as a "silly woman" who read "too many magazines" has concluded that he gave sub- standard care to patients with, in some cases, fatal results. Delays in diagnosis and treatment, inadequate surgery and poor follow-up may have led to several deaths, the inquiry found.

David Baumber, a general surgeon at Bury NHS Trust, was suspended in April last year when two patients died from peritonitis after surgery. Nurses had complained about his failure to take steps which might have saved their lives.

An initial investigation of the cases was widened to include his treatment of 818 patients, mainly women with breast problems and general surgical cases, since 1991. Of these, 177 needed further investigation and 13 resulted in legal action.

The inquiry report, published yesterday, expresses "serious concerns" about Mr Baumber's professional competence and personal conduct in some of the cases. It says the diagnosis and treatment of women with breast cancer "fell below a standard that patients could reasonably have expected".

He gave poor follow-up care, delayed diagnosis and treatment, relied too heavily on radiotherapy, and failed to find lumps or did not remove them properly. In addition, the report says: "There is evidence that the failure to take timely action in the face of severe post- operative complications may have contributed to the deaths of two or three patients."

By the time of his suspension in April 1998, Mr Baumber had himself been suffering from cancer for more than a year, and had been receiving chemo- therapy. He was reported to the General Medical Council but died last November, before his case could be heard. The inquiry report recommends better assessment of doctors who have been seriously ill before they are allowed to practise.

However, concerns about Mr Baumber's practice pre-dated his illness. In 1992, he dismissed a 28-year-old woman who came to him worried about a breast lump, telling her she was being "silly". Two years later, Gillian Allen was dead after the cancer had spread to her liver and brain. Her husband, Douglas, was awarded pounds 80,000 in damages in an out-of-court settlement in Manchester.

Despite this case, Mr Baumber continued in practice until Paul Blaine, a 41-year-old father of four, died after abdominal surgery in March 1998. Two weeks later, a second patient, Irene Roby, 68, died following routine surgery to remove a gall bladder. Complaints from nurses led to Mr Baumber's suspension.

Bury NHS Trust said yesterday that medical records had been improved and it had set up a one-stop clinic with specialist staff for women with breast problems.

Its chief executive, Phillip Bacon, said: "We have made every effort to personally see all the patients who felt that their care fell below what could be considered acceptable standards. We have been frank and open with them, appraising them off the full facts and the findings and recommendations of the independent advisers. Most of those we have seen have appreciated the fact that we have been open with them."

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