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Surgeon harmed 20 patients with 'unacceptable' conduct, report finds


A leading spinal surgeon’s botched operations left patients with serious blood loss, long-term pain and mobility problems, a damning report has revealed.

The report found that John Bradley Williamson’s “unacceptable and unprofessional behaviour” severely or moderately harmed 20 patients at Salford Royal hospital, once regarded as one of England’s safest.

The Northern Care Alliance NHS foundation trust, which now runs the hospital, commissioned the review after concerns about the surgeon’s conduct and capability were raised in 2021.

The report, overseen by surgeons and an independent expert, examined the care of 130 of Williamson’s patients, treated between 2009 and 2014.

It found that 23 patients had screws misplaced in their spines, five suffered excessive blood loss, and in nine cases Williamson failed to investigate or act on post-surgery complications “in a timely way, if at all.”

The report said: “Williamson’s surgical technique was judged to be poor in multiple cases. Issues with screw placement and screws being misplaced were identified in a high number of cases.

“In a number of cases, surgery was found to be poorly planned and patients suffered high blood loss for the surgery performed. He also incorrectly applied paediatric surgical practise and concepts to more complex adult surgical patients.”

Williamson, 66, a former president of the British Scoliosis Society and examiner for the Royal College of Surgeons, held several senior positions at the trust, where he was employed from 1991 to January 2015. In his last post, he was chair of the hospital’s neurosciences division.

He had also worked at the Royal Manchester children’s hospital as well as carrying out private practice at Spire Manchester hospital. According to Spire’s website, his practising privileges have been revoked.

The trust sacked Williamson in 2015 and, later that year, called in the Royal College to review 10 of his patients, but no significant concerns were found.

The report concluded that there were “significant contradictions” between its own findings and the Royal College of Surgeons’ review.

It identified “significant professional issues” in Williamson’s practice, including “unacceptable and unprofessional conduct” with patients and staff. It said he had a “lack of probity” in being “open and honest with patients.”

The report established 15 themes in the reviewed cases, including “substandard surgery due to lack of care and attention in uncomplicated surgery” and “causing long-term pain and mobility issues.”

It also highlighted inadequate record keeping, failures of patient consent and poor surgical planning.

The report said there were “suboptimal governance practices” in investigating problems. “There is evidence of issues identified inappropriately as recognised complications (rather than clinical incidents), hence the clinical events not being fully investigated.”

The review found that seven patients – including four who have since died– had “severe harm” inflicted by the surgeon, and 13 had faced “moderate harm”.

The trust’s chief medical officer, Dr Rafik Bedair, said: “Sadly, in this case, things did go wrong, and 20 patients were harmed. We are deeply sorry for this. It is regrettable that it took so long for this investigation to happen.”

Williamson told the Sunday Times: “I have always strived to provide the very best care for patients. I am taking time to reflect on the report findings.”

A spokesperson for Spire said: “John Bradley Williamson has not carried out surgery at Spire since 2013. We have commenced a review of his patients for whom he had performed specific spinal procedures. These were all undertaken prior to 2013.

“All patients whose care is to be reviewed have been contacted and given details of how their care with Mr Williamson will be assessed.”