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Cancer doctor Justin Stebbing at risk of being struck off was ‘too cavalier’

·4-min read
File photo (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Archive)
File photo (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Archive)

A Harley Street cancer doctor at risk of being struck off for misconduct admitted being “too cavalier” in the way he treated some patients, it can be revealed.

Professor Justin Stebbing also castigated himself for “utter stupidity” and said there was “no excuse” for inappropriate emails he sent a vulnerable patient who he nicknamed “LMT” (Little Miss Trouble).

But he said he believed he never harmed a patient and said his aim was “full remediation going forwards” and a desire to “return to safe practice”.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service ruled on Monday that Professor Stebbing’s fitness to practise was “impaired” as a result of misconduct, following a case brought by the General Medical Council.

A sample of 12 cases included claims that he over-treated patients dying from cancer, including at times when further treatment was futile. There were also claims he failed to obtain full consent for treatment.

On Monday night the MPTS published extracts from two statements made by Professor Stebbing last month – a 30-page “reflection statement” and a 38-page witness statement.

In the reflection statement, he said: “I do not believe I have ever harmed any patient ever.”

He said many of his patients were extremely wealthy, or “resource unconstrained”, who had travelled from afar and were “desperate for anything to be done”.

He said: “The exercise has been a deeply humbling, chastening and eye-opening experience. My actions have damaged my profession in general and institutions where I have worked. I am sorry I made so many mistakes.

“It is abundantly clear I had too cavalier an attitude in some cases. Most of these patients had received treatment before and did not want a no-treatment option and came to me on that basis.

“There was no malice, and I always acted in accordance with what I thought were the best interests of the patients. I accept I misjudged the best interests of the patients here.

“I am a humble physician who has been humbled, by the mistakes I have made. The process itself has also been shaming. I will pick up the lessons and learn and try to be a cautious physician.”

He added: “I have conceded I have fallen on the wrong side of a very finely balanced and very thin line, however well-intentioned I was at the time.

“These were marginal calls in difficult and unusual clinical situations, but I fell the wrong side of the line. I now see how and why this occurred and would never do this again. I am sorry that I made these mistakes.”

He said he had attended more than 25 courses to learn about patient consent and ethics.

“To this day I struggle to believe I could have behaved as I did. I have no previous history of dishonesty, and none since,” Professor Stebbing said.

“I… have spent considerable time over the last 4-5 years reflecting over my errors. I am immensely sorry for this... I do not however think anyone was harmed and believe at all times I was working to ‘save lives’; there were no bad intentions.”

The tribunal heard he exchanged numerous emails with a 47-year-old woman, known as Patient E, who he nicknamed Little Miss Trouble. Many contained a series of X kisses. She died in 2016.

Professor Stebbing wrote: “There is no excuse for the inappropriate e-mails with Patient E.

“In retrospect, it is clear that I should have addressed the inappropriate nature of our communications, warned her, and subsequently chosen to terminate the exchange and transferred her care elsewhere if the communications continued, in the manner in which they did.

“The nature of my communications were wholly inappropriate. I regret that and have learned a painful lesson that I will never forget.”

The MPTS will hold a further hearing to decide what sanctions, if any, to impose on Professor Stebbing.

These could range from a warning or retaining conditions currently placed on his working practices in the NHS, to suspension or being struck off the medical register.

The MPTS also published some witness statements received on his behalf. It received more than 1,000 pages of testimonials.

One woman said her sister, known as Patient I, “sought out Professor Stebbing as she wasn’t ready to be written off. He gave her a serious chance and she achieved much needed precious time with her sons and family... We found Professor Stebbing to be a highly intelligent individual totally committed to improving cancer survival rates and treatments”.

The wife of Patient J said: “Had it not been for Professor Stebbing, I would not have had the final year with [him] and we would have had no reprieve from his cancer”.

However the tribunal found his action in giving an unauthorised prescription to Patient L was dishonest and “presented an unwarranted risk to patient safety”.

It said his false claim about formally discussing a patient’s case with colleagues was “deplorable behaviour”.

It said there was an “ongoing risk to patient safety” in relation to his prognosis and treatment of patients but accepted his regret and remorse as “genuine”.

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