Killer surgeon avoids jail term
A former consultant surgeon has avoided being sent to prison, despite admitting killing a patient who died after an operation at a Lancashire hospital.
Steven Walker was given a 21-month jail sentence suspended over two years, at the Old Bailey for the manslaughter of 71-year-old Dorothy McPhee in 1995.
Walker, of Camberley, Surrey, was working at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
Judge Sir Stephen Mitchell said the hospital had not done enough to stop him operating on patients.
Walker changed his plea last week to admit killing Mrs McPhee at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
The prosecution asked that the charge relating to the death of Mrs Jean Robinson, 66, should remain on file along with another manslaughter charge due to be heard later this year.
The court had heard how Walker had carried out an operation to remove a tumour from Mrs McPhee which he should not have performed.
She lost 36 pints of blood during the procedure and the jury heard how Walker posed for a photograph with a liver sample as Mrs McPhee lay dying nearby.
Stephen Miller QC, defending, said there had been a culture in hospitals at the time of allowing the consultant to make his own decisions.
Walker believed he was doing his best for Mrs McPhee in deciding to continue with the operation.
Mr Miller added: "The decision to carry on was not wicked. It was a misjudgement."
Walker became a consultant at the hospital in 1995 but was suspended in January 1999.
'Beyond the limit'
He was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council (GMC) following a series of botched operations which left four women dead and others maimed.
The GMC's disciplinary panel was told 16 anaesthetists at the hospital refused to work with him.
He was struck off the medical register in November 2001 for performing surgery "beyond the limit" of his confidence and skill.
Walker appealed and a year later the GMC restored his name to the register on condition that he did not perform operations.
This has been a long and difficult case and we would like to offer our sympathies to the families involved
Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals NHS Trust
But a police investigation was launched into the deaths and Walker was again suspended in July 2003 after he was charged.
The hospital trust criticised in the trial said "a number of changes had taken place" since Walker's departure to prevent any further tragedies.
The Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals NHS Trust said: "It is now more than five years since Mr Walker worked at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
"Since then a number of changes have taken place both at this trust and across the wider NHS to improve patient safety.
"This has been a long and difficult case and we would like to offer our sympathies to the families involved."
The new safeguards mean consultants are now subject to annual appraisal and staff are encouraged to report any incidents or near misses and concerns about the competence of colleagues.
The trust said concerns were raised on three occasions between 1996 and 1998 about "specific complex areas" of Walker's work" and "immediate action" was taken to stop Walker from carrying out these types of procedures.
I always found him a rather arrogant man who just didn't recognise his own incompetence
Neil Saville, the son of one of Walker's victims
Speaking after the trial, the son of a woman who died three months after Walker carried out surgery on her said he found him to be an "arrogant man" and believed the sentence was fair, but understood other families may feel cheated.
Neil Saville's mother Mabel died in 1999, aged 86, after she lost huge quantities of blood while Walker carried out the operation.
He said: "I always found him a rather arrogant man who just didn't recognise his own incompetence.
"This is a man who was wedded to his career. He's already had a sentence, having had his job taken away from him."
Mr Saville said he expected that the families of the other people Walker killed "are pretty well gutted that he's not in jail."