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Breast surgery patient lays complaint over care at Middlemore Hospital

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An Auckland woman’s complaint over her breast surgery has led to an investigation over her care at Middlemore Hospital.

The woman says she ended up with different-sized breasts, which she believed was the result of two surgeons operating on her.

She claims she did not give informed consent for a second doctor to take part in the procedure.

After reviewing her case, the Health and Disability Commission (HDC) has decided to open an investigation.

The 52-year-old mother of one, who asked to remain anonymous, said she had struggled for many years with heavy breasts, which led to back problems and affected her everyday life.

The woman's surgery is now the subject of a complaint to the Health and Disability Commissioner. Photo / Michael Craig
The woman’s surgery is now the subject of a complaint to the Health and Disability Commissioner. Photo / Michael Craig

She was eventually referred for breast reduction and liposuction at Middlemore Hospital in April 2018. The woman hoped to have her breasts reduced from an HH cup to a D or E cup.

She says on the day of her operation, she signed a form at Middlemore thatpermitted another surgeon to carry out the operation if her surgeon was unavailable.

However, she claimed that at the time of signing the form, her surgeon confirmed to her that he would be carrying out the operation.

She did not find out until six weeks later that a fellow (a doctor undertaking subspecialist training) had operated on one of her breasts while her consulting surgeon operated on the other.

“I did not give informed consent for that,” she told the Herald.

The woman said the operation left her with uneven breasts. About 950g was removed from one breast and 450g from the other.

Although her breasts were uneven to begin with, the difference between them was only half a cup. After surgery, one of her breasts was a C cup and the other a D cup. She also claims the operation left her with a distended stomach and a badly damaged nipple on one breast.

“I cannot look at myself as I feel disgusting,” she said. “I have lost my relationship and my self-confidence.

“I am facing two major surgeries to rectify the breasts and abdomen swelling at a cost of $40,000. My health, both mental and physical, is impacted and I struggle every day.”

A Te Whatu Ora Counties Manukau spokesperson said the hospital recognised the woman was unhappy with the care she received.

“However, we do not agree with her characterisation of the care provided by Te Whatu Ora Counties Manukau or with the version of events which has been presented,” they said.

The spokesperson said Te Whatu Ora was contributing to the HDC review of her case, and could not comment further while that investigation was ongoing.

In correspondence after her complaint, the doctor said he was certain he would not have told the patient he would be doing the entire operation alone.

Two surgeons were required to safely perform the procedure, and because Middlemore was a training hospital, he often worked alongside a senior medical officer or a fellow.

The woman was also clearly warned before the operation about the potential for asymmetrical breasts and that doctors could not guarantee a cup size, the correspondence said.

ACC approved the woman’s claim for corrective surgery to have her breasts balanced. But she says there were still further errors that were costly to fix. A single mother, she previously worked as a teacher and now manages Airbnb properties.

She laid a complaint with the HDC 18 months ago, and the commissioner has now taken up her case.

“I do not want other people to go through this so I am fighting for accountability,” she said. “And the basic human rights of clear communication and respect.”

The woman also received a second opinion from another plastic surgeon after her operation.

The doctor’s notes said she had “very well-shaped breasts” but also that they were “slightly asymmetrical” with half-to-one-cup difference between them.

Isaac Davison is an Auckland-based reporter who covers health issues. He joined the Herald in 2008 and has previously covered the environment, politics, and social issues.

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