A rogue cancer doctor linked to ten deaths continued to practise for six years because hospital chiefs ignored up to 40 warnings about him, an inquest heard.
Doctors and nurses repeatedly blew the whistle on consultant urologist Paul Miller as early as 2007.
But bosses at East Surrey Hospital in Redhill took years to act, only suspending him in late 2013, by which time at least 27 men had suffered ‘serious significant harm’.
An inquest heard Mr Miller railroaded patients into experimental cancer treatments, which he had a financial interest in, rather than traditional surgery.
One senior consultant, Michael Swinn, said he had ’20 to 30 meetings’ raising concerns about Mr Miller’s care and even took his complaints direct to the Trust’s chief executive.
He added: ‘It was like hitting your head against a brick wall. It hurts and it doesn’t achieve anything.’
Consultant urologist Paul Miller (above) linked to ten deaths continued to practise for six years because hospital chiefs ignored up to 40 warnings about him, an inquest heard
Two senior nurses, giving evidence at an inquest into the deaths of ten of Mr Miller’s patients this week, broke down as they told how their warnings fell on deaf ears.
The three whistleblowers said it was ‘futile’ to challenge the consultant who, it was said, ‘derived pleasure from conflict’.
Colleagues were left in tears in the ‘bullying-type environment’ that developed. Mr Swinn, consultant urologist at East Surrey Hospital, said: ‘It was crystal clear to me from 2008, maybe 2007, that there was a serious problem that was negatively affecting patient care.
‘I had 20 to 30 meetings with the clinical director of surgery. I also went to the medical director, the CEO and I remember discussions with the director of operations.
‘These weren’t just one-offs. These were multiple things.’
Catherine Sharpe and Kate Etheridge, both clinical nurse specialists, were said to have reported their concerns at least four times each, including to the chief executive of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust at the time.
Dr Henderson today quizzed him on how he treated bladder cancer patient Graham Stoten, who died aged 59.
A further complaint about Mr Miller was revealed in a 2010 internal report by the chief nurse for surgery into a ‘serious’ incident, but it was given ‘less credence’ than it deserved.
As she opened the inquest at Crawley Coroner’s Court, assistant coroner Karen Henderson said: ‘Paul Miller did not work in a vacuum.’
As more complaints were made, he stopped mentioning his experimental treatments, which involved light or ultrasound, by name in official letters.
He also ‘deliberately’ held consultations without a nurse present so he could talk patients into having private treatments, the inquest heard.
Mr Miller had a financial interest in the company providing the equipment used to carry out one of the experimental procedures, called High Intensity Focused Ultrasound, at nearby Spire Gatwick Park Hospital.
Two internal reports commissioned by the Trust found that, rather than challenging him, managers presided over a culture that was ‘weighted in favour of protecting a clinician’s reputation, rather than protecting patient safety’.
The hearing was told about how Mr Miller informed Mr Stoten and his wife Debbie (above) that he had cancer in December 2011
I was bullying into agreeing to his therapy, says widow
A widow told the inquest how Paul Miller ‘intimidated’ her into agreeing to an experimental treatment for her husband.
The consultant failed to tell father-of-two Graham Stoten that an operation to remove his bladder, a cystectomy, could have saved his life, the court heard.
Instead he suggested he have ‘photodynamic therapy’, an experimental technique that has not been widely used since the early 1990s.
Mr Stoten’s wife Debbie, 58, told the inquest: ‘Mr Miller was very aggressive, raised his voice and sarcastically said, ‘If you want Graham to have a cystectomy then let’s get on with it’. He lent over the table and said ‘all of the consultants agree with me’. I felt a bit afraid. I foolishly agreed and said we would do the treatment he recommended.’
When Mr Miller’s course of treatment was unsuccessful Mr Stoten had traditional surgery in 2014, but it was too late and he died in 2015, aged 57.
Mr Miller was asked whether he was on a ‘frolic of his own’ when he suggested the experimental treatment to Mr Stoten.
He said: ‘It’s not a conventional treatment. I would absolutely apologise for leading Mr and Mrs Stoten down that blind alley.’
However he added he believed Mr Stoten was aware of the range of available treatments, including cystectomy.
Mr Miller was finally dismissed in October 2014 and the General Medical Council suspended his licence to practise medicine the following month.
The watchdog has since lifted the ban, meaning he can practise if he abides by certain condition s, including not treating cancer patients.
Before the inquest, a number of families claimed Mr Miller shortened their loved ones’ lives.
He is said to have encouraged Ren Avery to have a novel ultrasound treatment for his cancer.
Mr Miller was sacked by East Surrey Hospital, part of Surrey and Sussex NHS Healthcare Trust,in Redhill in 2014. A coroner is now looking into the deaths of 10 patients in his care
Mr Avery waited three years for the treatment only to find it would not work, by which time it was too late for surgery, and he died in 2012 aged 80.
His wife Doreen Avery said last year: ‘My grandchildren have been deprived of their granddad and that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.’
Alan Burgess was also treated by Mr Miller. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2012, and had surgery in February 2013. The family went for a follow-up appointment five months later, but Mr Miller was dismissive of their request for further scans.
In January 2014, it was found Mr Burgess’s cancer had returned, and he died in May 2014 aged 72.
His wife Jean Burgess said: ‘If Miller had ordered any scans they would have found that the cancer had come back and spread.’
The inquest continues.