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‘I thought he walked on water’: Patients react with anger and shock to Derek McMinn allegations

Samuel Lovett and Shaun Lintern
·6-min read
 (iStock)
(iStock)

Patients of Derek McMinn have expressed their shock and anger after it was alleged that the renowned hip surgeon harvested the body parts of people he operated on over a 25-year period.

Calls have been made for an independent inquiry into McMinn after a leaked report, seen by The Independent, claimed that he had collected and stored the bones of at least 5,224 patients – despite having no licence to store body parts, or proper consent from these individuals.

Nurses, theatre staff and doctors at Birmingham’s Edgbaston Hospital, where McMinn carried out the majority of his operations, were apparently aware of what he was doing.

Some hospital staff even helped put bones from patients in special pots to be preserved and collected by members of the surgeon’s team, according to the internal investigation by BMI Healthcare, which runs the hospital. McMinn is alleged to have kept some of the bones at his farmhouse in Worcestershire.

West Mercia Police said it was investigating an allegation "of Breach of Statutory Licensing requirements under the Human Tissue Act 2004", following a referral from the Human Tissue Authority.

The allegations have been met with bewilderment among McMinn’s former patients, many of whom described him as an “affable” and kind character whose operations drastically improved their quality of life.

Others have echoed demands made by politicians and health bodies for the immediate establishment of an investigation, and have called into question the clinical services they received under McMinn’s watch.

Sarah, a former private healthcare worker who did not want to provide her real name, said she had been “delighted” with the results of her two operations – which took place in 2010 and 2018 – but was “disturbed” by the nature of the allegations.

“Until this morning, I thought he walked on water,” she told The Independent. “The clinical care I had was first rate, as was the outcome of the operation.

“It’s shocking. It seems very macabre and odd, and is obviously very wrong.

“My primary concern is to establish whether this man was competent to carry out the operation. I’ve got these two great chunks of metal in me, and this was the man who was supposed to be looking after me for the next 10 years and now this has come out.”

Sarah added that she was “particularly shocked” that she had not been informed by Edgbaston Hospital when McMinn came under investigation last year. It is understood that BMI Healthcare had not contacted any of McMinn’s patients, who were mainly private and paid £13,000 for the operation, but also included some referred by the NHS.

After being accused of a cover-up, BMI Healthcare has since launched a helpline for affected patients.

The full scale of McMinn’s alleged actions – dating back to the 1990s – was kept from some regulators until the The Independent began making inquiries in the past week, despite completion of the internal BMI review in October last year.

“I’m very shocked that this has been going on and I’ve not been informed,” Sarah said. “I had to find out about it from your newspaper’s investigation. I’ve not had any communication whatsoever from the hospital.

“I have no idea why they wouldn't inform us. Maybe that prejudices the inquiry, but it has surprised me greatly.

“It's been a real shock because I almost felt he was a friend. He was such an affable character. He knew all about me and the other patients who were there in the hospital at the same time.”

According to the internal report, McMinn admitted to the hospital in August 2019 that he had been collecting tissue for 25 years, for “research” purposes, and had “obtained verbal consent” from his patients. Sarah, along with many others, said this was not the case.

“I don’t recall any conversation about the harvesting of tissue and keeping it, or research,” she said. “I don’t remember providing verbal consent.”

David Harrison, from Cornwall, had a hip-resurfacing operation carried out by McMinn two and a half years ago. He told The Independent that he could not recall any conversation about McMinn keeping his bones or being asked for consent. He said: “I don’t recall such a conversation, but I would have had no objection.

“As far as I am concerned, the man is a genius. I wouldn’t want to do anything to harm his reputation. I would back him 100 per cent. If he has made a mistake, I forgive him.”

Jeff Caplan, a shopping market researcher from Cheshire, “could barely walk” prior to his 2007 hip operation at the hands of McMinn, who he called a “brilliant surgeon”. He said the allegations were "very weird but don’t really bother me”.

Retired teacher Hilary Ellison, from Hampshire, had a total hip replacement performed by McMinn in 2011 and told The Independent that she wanted BMI Healthcare to contact all patients individually about what had happened.

“I am surprised. Certainly I should have been told by the hospital when they became aware,” she said. “I am concerned he could have kept confidential records and I do remember he insisted on the wet [physical] X-rays as opposed to digital X-rays.”

Mrs Ellison said she had no recollection of being asked consent for McMinn to keep and store her bones, but she said had the surgeon asked her, she would probably have said yes.

“This has come as a surprise and it is a bit odd. I was very happy with the surgery and am very grateful to him.”

While she had no concern about her bones being kept by McMinn, she said it would be “irritating” if it was found that he had profited financially from the collection of bones and records, as she was a big support of the UK Biobank and non-profit research.

Patients of the jailed breast surgeon Ian Paterson, who carried out unnecessary surgeries on more than 1,000 women, said the similarities between that case and the McMinn allegations showed that the private hospital industry required greater transparency and scrutiny.

Debbie Douglas, who was operated on by Paterson, said McMinn’s alleged actions demonstrated that “nothing has changed” within the sector.

“There are so many parallels to the Paterson report,” she said. “For people not to know their limbs were being taken away or families finding out someone who has died had their bones somewhere else – it’s mortifying.”

An inquiry into Paterson’s conduct found that he was able to continue harming women for more than 14 years because of a “wilful blindness” and a “culture of avoidance and denial”.

Mary Greaves, whose brother Peter O’Donnell died after “gross failures” in a BMI Healthcare hospital, told The Independent: “It’s absolutely horrendous that this could happen.

“Consultants in the private sector are a law unto themselves; they are not directly employed by the hospitals. There needs to be legislation to stop these hospitals avoiding accountability and make consultants employees so the hospitals are responsible for what happens in their buildings.”

When approached by The Independent, McMinn declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Circle Health Group, which took over BMI Healthcare in June this year, said it “would like to apologise for this surgeon’s completely unacceptable and distressing actions in previous years”.

The group added: “We will leave no stone unturned in investigating these historic issues; they have all been reported to the appropriate authorities and we will cooperate closely with regulators to resolve them.”

Read more

Derek McMinn: The surgical pioneer facing a scandal

Derek McMinn: Helpline launched for patients of surgeon at centre of body parts scandal

Jeremy Hunt calls for investigation into renowned surgeon who ‘hoarded thousands of body parts over 25 years’