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Saturday, 3 November, 2001, 20:55 GMT
Surgeon's litany of error
Steven Walker
Steven Walker had been the subject of 'whispers and rumours'
Surgeon Steven Walker was accused of a "cavalier" attitude to patients, "serial incompetence" and a "deep rooted lack of insight into his own ability".

The GMC upheld 50 complaints against the surgeon, relating to operations on 10 patients at the Blackpool Victoria NHS Trust between December 1995 and March 1998.

Four later died and others were maimed.

Not all of their families felt Mr Walker's punishment was adequate, despite the GMC striking him off the register for five years.

The disciplinary panel heard that nine of the 10 operations went ahead despite the surgeon's technical inability and lack of expertise.

'Unorthodox' procedures

Two other patients should have been referred to a specialist.

Rebecca Poulet QC, for the GMC, said many of his procedures were "unorthodox and unprescribed".

They included proposing to insert two implants into one breast after he had miscalculated the implant required.

There was nothing in place to monitor what was being done and no one to advise him

Stephen Miller QC
Mr Walker's QC
Colleagues stopped him from inserting both of the implants in the March 1998 operation.

A correct-sized implant had to be rushed by taxi from Preston to Blackpool while the patient was still on the table. It took 30 minutes.

Mr Walker, from Preston, also failed to "properly manage" the bleeding in four of his patients.

The committee was told that a 70-year-old woman lost 17.5 litres of blood during an operation to remove a cancerous tumour in December 1995.

It heard that the procedure should only have been attempted at a specialist liver unit and that the patient's family were later given inaccurate information.

Blood loss

At one point he turned his back on the heavily-bleeding woman to supervise a photograph being taken of the removed tumour as his "astonished" colleagues looked on.

The patient lost four litres of blood while the photograph was being taken and died two hours after surgery.

Five patients on whom Mr Walker carried out reconstructive surgery had their silicon implants inserted too high, leaving one woman complaining that she felt like "a freak", Ms Poulet said.

Mr Walker tried to cover up the botched implant on a 52-year-old former mastectomy patient with sticky tape to even it out.

The inquiry was told he had no experience in breast reconstruction surgery apart from possibly seeing "one or two" implant operations in 1981 and 1987.

'Restraining hand'

It was only after the death of an 86-year-old woman who lost huge amounts of blood during a colon cancer operation in December 1998 that Mr Walker was taken aside.

Soon after he was suspended on full pay but before that there were "whispers and rumours but nothing put to him to suggest that something needed to be dealt with at that time rather than years later," Stephen Miller QC, who defended Mr Walker, told the GMC.

Mr Miller blamed the hospital for failing to provide a "restraining hand and centralised point" where anyone felt able to discuss ongoing problems.

"The problem was there was nothing in place to monitor what was being done and no one to advise him how inappropriate it was in the one-off liver and breast reconstruction cases."

Mr Walker had felt it was appropriate to conduct breast reconstructions because the system then available in Blackpool was "inadequate", Mr Miller said.

The BBC's Karen Allen
"This was a man working beyond his limits"
See also:

01 Nov 01 | Health
Charges against surgeon proved
10 Sep 01 | Health
Cancer surgeon 'incompetent'
03 Nov 01 | Health
Cancer surgeon struck off
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