Orthopedic surgeon John Bradley Williamson was found to have 'directly contributed' to the death of Catherine O'Connor in 2007, when he operated on her

Orthopaedic surgeon, 65, responsible for death of 17-year-old patient faces probe over allegations of covering up mistakes and running ‘toxic’ team with ‘absolute power’ because he had relationship with a nurse

  • Surgeon John Bradley Williamson’s actions lead to the death of teen, says report
  • Catherine O’Connor died in February 2007 aged 17 after catastrophic blood loss
  • The 65-year-old has been accused of running ‘toxic’ team with ‘absolute power’
  • Allegations by whistleblowers claim there has been a cover-up by managers 

A surgeon who was branded a bully is facing a probe after an NHS report found his ‘unacceptable and unjustifiable’ actions lead to the death of a 17-year-old patient.

Surgeon John Bradley Williamson, a former president of the British Scoliosis Society, is accused of running a ‘toxic’ team with ‘absolute power’ and having mistakes covered up due to his relationship with a nurse.

The 65-year-old was found to have ‘directly contributed’ to the death of Catherine O’Connor in February 2007,  according to a leaked NHS-commissioned report.

Catherine was wheelchair-bound after being born with spina bifida, she died on the operating table at Salford Royal Hospital in Manchester following catastrophic blood loss, The Sunday Times reported.

The ‘Patient Safety Look Back Review’ concluded that Williamson’s actions, which included not having a second consultant surgeon or enough blood, ‘directly contributed’ to Catherine O’Connor’s death. 

Dr Williamson was suspended in 2014 and sacked in 2015 for inappropriate behaviour towards a female member of staff not for clinical reasons.

The General Medical Council said that Williamson was still registered with a licence to practise and was not under investigation. He continues to see patients privately although he no longer carries out surgery and charges £350 an hour as an expert witness. 

Catherine’s case is one of more than a hundred of Williamson’s being looked by Salford Royal Hospital in the review, following allegations by whistleblowers of a cover-up by managers.

Orthopedic surgeon John Bradley Williamson was found to have ‘directly contributed’ to the death of Catherine O’Connor in 2007, when he operated on her

Catherine O’Connor died following catastrophic blood loss aged only 17 after having spinal surgery by John Bradley Williamson

Williamson specialised in surgery to treat scoliosis, though his patients have been described as being left paralysed or in severe pain as a result of misplaced spinal screws, according to an internal list produced by clinicians as long ago as 2014.

Leaked minutes seen by The Sunday Times from December 2021 reveal his colleague’s described him as ‘clinically incompetent’ and a ‘dictatorial bully’, who ran his department with ‘absolute power’ because he was having a relationship with the department’s nurse manager.

Staff also claimed that reports into mistakes resulted in them being threatened or the reports themselves ‘went missing, disappeared or were downgraded’.

John Bradley Williamson managed a team of 30 surgeons at Salford Royal Hospital with ‘absolute power’ according to a colleague

In relation to O’Connor’s death, Williamson said: ‘I always strive to provide the very best care for my patients. Due to patient confidentiality I cannot comment on specific patient care, however I have not been made aware of any allegations regarding inappropriate care at any time since the operation took place in 2007.’ 

Williamson joined Salford Royal Hospital and the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital in 1996 and as head of division he managed a team of 30 surgeons handling 10,000 referrals and 2,000 complex surgeries a year.

Addressing the Spinal Patient Safety Look Back Review, the Northern Care Alliance said: ‘We reassure patients that this review only involves some patients who received spinal surgery performed by this Consultant Surgeon. This surgeon has not worked at the Trust since 2015.

‘Patients should be assured that if concerns are identified with their care or treatment then they will be contacted by our organisation.

‘A patient might then be asked to attend for a clinic appointment with one of our consultant spinal surgeons. This might be to discuss medical history, previous spinal surgery, progress since spinal surgery (even if this was some time ago) and current condition. This will help to determine if anything further needs to take place.

‘We are sorry for any distress or concern that patients may have experienced and we hope this information provides patients with some reassurance. We emphasise that any patient where concerns are identified with their previous spinal surgery or treatment – they will be contacted by the Trust.’

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By Jon Doe