Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner
Two senior doctors who blew the whistle on rogue breast surgeon Ian Paterson have told ITV he could have been stopped from harming victims much earlier but their concerns were ignored.
Paterson is serving a 20-year prison sentence following one of the biggest scandals in British medical history.
The surgeon, who operated in NHS and private hospitals in the Midlands between 1993 and 2011, was found guilty of carrying out "completely unnecessary" operations after he exaggerated or invented cancer risks.
He was convicted of 17 counts of wounding with intent on 10 victims and three counts of unlawful wounding - but his victims are believed to be in the hundreds.
Speaking for the first time to ITV's Tonight programme, to be broadcast on Thursday, retired GP Dr Eli Leyton said he reported Paterson to a private hospital manager in 2008 after discovering one of his patients was just 24 hours away from an unnecessary operation.
Dr Leyton said: “This lady told me that Ian Paterson drew a line and one of the lines he said was normal, the other end of the line was cancer - and that she was in the middle. There was nothing wrong with her.”
Dr Leyton complained to one of Paterson’s managers, Will Knights, at the Spire Parkway hospital.
“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 because he brings in too much money.' I said this is immoral - and he said, 'I am sure there is a mistake which will explain all this.'"
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.
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.”
Dr Leyton's claims have been echoed by a retired consultant oncologist, Dr Andrew Stockdale, who reported problems with Paterson’s surgery in 2003.
This was eight years before the surgeon was first suspended from working as a surgeon in 2011 and a decade before he was first interviewed by police.
In the NHS, Paterson performed incomplete ‘cleavage sparing’ mastectomies on more than 400 women.
It emerged later that the operation was fast and dangerous and left patients at a greater risk of their cancer returning.
In his first media interview, Dr Stockdale said the findings of his own investigation were not following up by managers at the NHS Heart of England Trust.
“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," he said.
Dr Stockdale added: "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 recognised 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.”
Heart of England NHS Trust made no comment to the programme in response to the allegations.
Tonight asked the organisation’s former chief executive Mark Goldman, who was present for most of the time Paterson was in Solihull, whether he felt regret or acknowledged that there had been management failures in its treatment of patients.
Mr Goldman said he had no comment at this time, but added: “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.”
One of Paterson’s NHS patients was Barbara Lewis, who was correctly diagnosed with cancer in 2003, was told need a mastectomy.
After Paterson botched the operation, her cancer has now returned.
It is impossible to determine for definite whether Paterson’s surgery is responsible for her prognosis but Mrs Lewis branded him "an egotistical maniac".
The programme also features exclusive new footage from Paterson’s police interviews.
The Butcher Surgeon - A Scandal Uncovered will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm on Thursday 14th December