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  1. ITV Report

‘Breast cancer butcher’ could have been stopped years earlier, doctors tell ITV

Two senior doctors who blew the whistle on one of the biggest scandals in British medical history have told ITV that disgraced breast surgeon Ian Paterson could have been stopped from harming victims much earlier, but their concerns were ignored.

Dr Andrew Stockdale, a retired Oncologist from Warwickshire, and Dr Eli Leyton, a former GP in Shirley, complained in 2003 and 2007. Ian Paterson was not suspended until 2011.

ITV News Central’s Health Correspondent, Stacey Foster, has been working on the story alongside ITV News Anchor Julie Etchingham for a special Tonight programme.

As well as speaking to his former colleagues, ‘The Butcher Surgeon: A Scandal Uncovered’, looks at how hundreds of women were betrayed by a man whose job it was to save their lives.

ITV News Central Health Correspondent Stacey Foster confronting Paterson before he was sentenced in May 2017 Credit: ITV News Central

Ian Paterson was a popular breast surgeon operating in the Midlands. He worked for the Heart of England NHS Trust at Solihull Hospital between 1996 and 2011.

Over the course of nearly two decades he made a career out of lying to his private patients, telling them they had cancer when they didn’t, in order to make money from hundreds of unnecessary operations.

At the same time, in the NHS, Paterson performed incomplete mastectomies, sometimes known as “cleavage sparing mastectomies”. The operation left more than 400 patients at a greater risk of their cancer returning.

Paterson is now serving a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted of 17 counts of wounding with intent on 10 victims.

Last week, the government launched an independent inquiry into Paterson’s malpractice.

Dr Eli Leyton says he blew the whistle on Paterson in 2008 Credit: Tonight

Dr Eli Leyton, a retired GP who worked in Solihull, says he blew the whistle on Paterson in 2007-2008 after discovering one of his patients was just 24 hours away from an unnecessary operation.

He complained to one of Paterson’s managers at Spire Parkway, Will Knights. He told the Tonight programme:

I ran through the case. I showed him all the letters proving that he had lied.

And, at the end of it, I said I think he needs to be suspended pending a further investigation...and he says to me, there is no way we can suspend him cause he brings in too much money.

I said this is immoral...and he said I am sure there is a mistake.

– Dr Eli Leyton

But according to Dr Leyton, Knights said he could not suspend Paterson before asking him for an explanation or reviewing the allegations.

An internal investigation by Spire Healthcare at the time found no significant issues with Paterson's work.

A spokesperson for Will Knights said:

He had absolutely no recollection of making the comments attributed to him and was adamant he would not have said anything so wholly inappropriate.

– Will Knights spokesperson

Five years earlier, in the NHS, retired consultant oncologist, Dr Andrew Stockdale, reported problems with Paterson’s surgery in 2003.

Dr Andrew Stockdale reported problems with Paterson’s surgery in 2003 Credit: Tonight

Dr Andrew Stockdale told the programme:

They had been through a superficial process, shut the whole thing down, offered no feedback of any sort, and effectively clamped down on anything else being done.

In my view, I believe that I took a very courageous step in 2003 in cataloguing concerns about a fellow consultant. It was recommended that an audit was completed but it never was, and the Trust didn’t even ask to verify the data which I had presented.

Without doubt, if they’d done that, they would have recognized that there were an inappropriate number of patients having incomplete surgery, and if that had been followed proactively, far fewer women would have been harmed.

– Andrew Stockdale

Andrew Stockdale said he was later “horrified” to learn he was being investigated by the General Medical Council after raising concerns about Ian Paterson. He was found to have no case to answer.

He added:

I genuinely believed that I, as much as perhaps more so than many people in this situation, and it seemed to me that I’d been ignored at almost every turn and that even when the point was accepted in 2007, there had still be extraordinary delays in concluding any effective actions. So I was absolutely horrified.

– Andrew Stockdale

The programme also features exclusive new footage from Ian Paterson’s police interview in January 2013. Ian Paterson was never arrested, but invited for interview on two occasions in January 2013 and September 2014.

Throughout the interview in 2013, which was filmed, Ian Paterson’s solicitor reads out a lengthy statement. During questioning, Paterson replied “no comment” to all questions.

Spire Healthcare responded to the programme’s findings by saying:

Spire Healthcare apologises sincerely and wholeheartedly for the distress experienced by Ian Paterson’s victims. Since these awful events, there have been substantial changes both to process and to culture in Spire hospitals. Spire today has complete oversight of consultants’ work.

– Spire Healthcare
Heart of England NHS Trust former chief executive Mark Goldman spoke to reporter Julie Etchingham about the scandal Credit: Tonight

Heart of England NHS Trust did not comment, but reporter Julie Etchingham confronted the organisation’s former chief executive Mark Goldman, who was present for most of the time Paterson was in Solihull, to ask whether he regretted not stopping Paterson sooner, or acknowledged that there had been management failures in its treatment of patients.

He said: “I am sure that they have all had something happen to them which they all think about and regret for a very long time. Forever. I do understand that.”

The Tonight programme, ‘The Butcher Surgeon: A Scandal Uncovered’, airs this evening (14 December) on ITV at 19:30.