Expert Witness 'Unaware' Accused Oncologist Joined Company He Chaired

Ian Leonard

September 16, 2021

MANCHESTER—A leading oncologist has told a medical tribunal that he was unaware Professor Justin Stebbing had joined the team of a company where he was appointed chair.

Dr Nick Plowman, who's a defence witness in the case, told a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) fitness to practise hearing that Prof Stebbing had no role in Oncology Commercial Services (OCS) despite his name and bio appearing alongside his own on the company's website.

But he was accused of failing to declare his interest in OCS, which provides services to companies and healthcare organisations in the UK and abroad.

World-renowned oncologist Prof Stebbing is appearing before the tribunal accused of failing to provide good clinical care to 12 patients between March 2014 and March 2017.

He faces 36 charges which include the inappropriate treatment of patients given their advanced cancer or poor prognosis, overstating life expectancy and the benefits of chemotherapy, and continuing to treat patients when it was futile.

Prof Justin Stebbing

Company Role

Dr Plowman, who's a senior oncologist at St Bartholomew's Hospital and has a private practice in Harley Street, told the tribunal that Prof Stebbing's involvement with company was limited to his participation as "a leader in his field" at a webinar in September last year.

But Sharon Beattie, QC for the GMC, said a section of the company's website showed that both of them were listed as members of the OCS team.

Dr Plowman said he "didn't know" Prof Stebbing had been given a role in the company.

"You're the chairman of it," said Ms Beattie. "And he's on your website with a bio and a picture."

Dr Plowman said there was a "certain aggrandisement" and he was only a "titular" chairman and had "done zero" in the role.

He said CEO Nathan Nagel ran the company and was responsible for its website but he acknowledged they may have had a conversation about Prof Stebbing being "involved" further but that did not include discussions about a formal appointment.

Dr Plowman, who confessed to not knowing or ever meeting two other physicians who are part of the company's team according to its website, was asked by Ms Beattie why he'd "not declared" earlier that he and Prof Stebbing had an interest in a commercial company.

"Criticise me if you will," he said.

"I suggested Prof Stebbing's name to take part in a webinar.

"And I don't think it's inappropriate to invite experts in the field without declaring."

Patient L

The tribunal heard how Dr Plowman become involved in the case of one of the 12 patients - known as Patient L - who was given chemotherapy despite the treatment being vetoed by Prof Stebbing's supervisors after conditions had been placed on his practice by HCA Healthcare.

Prof Stebbing has admitted charges of prescribing the treatment without authorisation and then seeking to have it retrospectively authorised by changing the date on an MDT form.

Dr Plowman said he'd "smelled something was amiss" after being asked to provide a second opinion and he'd believed "politics" and "difficulties with HCA" were the reason Prof Stebbing asked him to review the patient.

But he acknowledged that he'd probably been aware of the MDT issue from a conversation with Prof Stebbing.

Ms Beattie pointed to patient notes and a letter written by Dr Plowman in April 2017 when he stated the treatment had been approved by a "properly constituted MDT" and he'd been "impressed to see" the presence of an external oncologist from Manchester.

But Dr Plowman admitted that he'd relied on information provided by Prof Stebbing and not verified it himself and he'd later been told that a "monitor" had withdrawn approval for treatment.

Ms Beattie said he'd potentially "put his name" to incorrect documents which would be a "misrepresentation" of records.

Fact Checking

Under questioning from panel chair Mr Hassan Khan, Dr Plowman admitted to "not checking the facts" and relying on Prof Stebbing's word because he'd not seen the MDT form.

Mr Khan said he should have made it clear in records that Prof Stebbing had told him the treatment had been approved at the MDT, adding: "The problem is if you don't know the facts, or haven't checked the facts. you're potentially propagating a lie."

Dr Plowman replied: "That's a little unfair."

He told the tribunal that he'd become aware that Prof Stebbing had admitted changing the date on the MDT and Ms Beattie questioned why he'd not declared he'd been "misled" given he was an "impartial" expert in the case.

She said the duty of an expert included bringing any matters that "may change his opinion" to the attention of the tribunal and he'd not done so, which included not mentioning he'd been misled in two reports.

Dr Plowman claimed he was unaware of that duty but Mr Khan pointed out that it formed part of the declaration that he'd signed when completing the reports.

"I don't think I was trying to do anything wrong," Dr Plowman said.

"If I became aware of something that I should have declared, and then didn't, I apologise.

"I am not trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes. I declare that what I've said today I believe to be the truth."

The hearing is continuing.

Ian Leonard is a freelance journalist experienced in covering MPTS hearings.

Lead Image: MPTS
Image 1: Kerry Elsworth


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