A total of seven inquests have now been opened into the deaths of women treated by rogue breast surgeon Ian Paterson, who was jailed in 2017 for wounding patients.
Area coroner Emma Brown said on Wednesday that she had reason to believe three further deaths “may have been caused or contributed to by acts or omissions in the treatment provided by Mr Paterson, and potentially by other clinicians involved in the care”.
Four inquests linked to the Birmingham and Solihull coroner’s preliminary investigations into patients of Paterson were opened and adjourned earlier this month.
Paterson was found to have carried out unnecessary operations in NHS and private hospitals, exaggerating or inventing cancer risks and claiming payments for more expensive procedures.
He was employed by Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust (HEFT) but had practising privileges in the independent sector at Spire Parkway and Spire Little Aston in Birmingham.
He was jailed in 2017 after being found guilty of 17 counts of wounding patients with intent, against 10 victims.
He was handed a 15-year prison term, but Court of Appeal judges later increased his tariff to 20 years.
In September 2017, more than 750 patients treated by Paterson received compensation payouts from a £37 million fund.
The independent Paterson Inquiry into the issues raised, published in February, found that many of Glasgow-born Paterson’s patients were “lied to, deceived or exploited”, though the consultant maintains his innocence.
The inquiry, chaired by retired Bishop of Norwich the Rt Rev Graham James, said the surgeon was able to go on performing unnecessary operations for years amid a “dysfunctional” healthcare system that failed patients.
He added that there were “missed opportunities” to stop Paterson, describing the failure to suspend him in 2003, when an NHS colleague first raised concerns, as “inexplicable”.
The inquiry was presented with NHS figures showing that of Paterson’s 1,206 mastectomy patients, 675 had died by 2017.
Ms Brown formally opened the additional inquests in a hearing conducted over a video-link at Birmingham Coroner’s Court, to comply with Covid-19 guidance.
She added it was “anticipated” that further inquests would be opened.
The coroner’s office is still carrying out investigations into those cases, after being asked by West Midlands Police in January to examine a sample of 23 deaths of former Paterson patients.
Inquests were opened on Wednesday into the deaths of jewellery-maker Judith Bruce, who was 47, kitchen assistant Christine Gould, 56, and housewife Lindsey Phipps, who was 57 at the time of her death.
Miss Bruce, born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, but latterly of Chelmsley Wood, Solihull, died at Good Hope Hospital on August 6 2005.
Cause of death was given at the time as breast carcinoma with liver metastases.
Mrs Gould, of Willow Road, Solihull, was born in Smethwick, West Midlands, and died at a care home in Edgbaston on May 24 2003.
Her cause of death was recorded as metastatic breast cancer.
Mrs Phipps, of Morville Close, Dorridge, Solihull, was born in London, and died at Solihull Hospital on October 30 2017.
Medical cause of death was a lower respiratory tract infection due to metastatic breast cancer.
Adjourning the hearings, the coroner said the inquests were “likely” to be Article 2 hearings, which covers a much broader sweep of the issues surrounding each death.
She added that this was because of the “apparent serious defaults by state organisations”, identified by the bishop’s inquiry.
Other issues likely to be raised included “any failings” by colleagues, management and corporate governance, or any systemic failings or inaction by regulators.
Investigations into whether other inquests would be opened are continuing, the coroner added.
Ms Brown said a pre-inquest review hearing would be fixed in due course once the total number of inquests is known.