The shocking story of trust abused by a rogue breast cancer surgeon

Few of us will forget the maelstrom of news in early summer 2017. A snap election, multiple terror attacks; the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.

But in the midst of them there was one name and one story which at the time did not set off the shockwaves it deserved.

Ian Paterson.

A breast cancer surgeon who mutilated his patients. Hundreds of them.

In the NHS he performed a rogue type of mastectomy surgery at high speed - leaving his patients at higher risk of their cancer returning. In his private practice he performed operations on women who didn’t even have breast cancer.

To read the details and to meet some of the women he mistreated is shocking.

Mothers, wives, sisters, daughters - women who’d put their trust in the hands of a surgeon who was promising to save their lives; a surgeon who utterly betrayed that trust.

In May, Paterson was jailed for 15 years for wounding. That sentence was increased on appeal to 20 years in August.

Some of the surgeon's victims pictured outside court after he was jailed. Credit: PA

But for the hundreds of women he mistreated there are still many big questions unanswered.

What was Paterson’s motivation? In his private practice - was it greed? On the NHS was it a macabre desire to assert control over women’s bodies?

After all the lessons from Harold Shipman, how could this happen for years on the NHS and in private hospitals?

And crucially - after warnings were raised and whistles blown on Paterson a full 8 years before he was finally suspended: why wasn’t he stopped sooner?

In a special programme for Tonight - we hear for the first time from two key whistle-blowers who say their concerns about Paterson’s practice were ignored.

Dr Eli Leyton reported Paterson to a private hospital manager in 2008. Credit: ITV Tonight

We try to get answers from the chief executive of a NHS trust - who has never spoken in public before - as to why the trust, under his leadership didn’t suspend him when a host of clinicians were asking to.

And we speak to some of Paterson’s victims - one of whom has had her cancer return. Another who had a mastectomy when she didn’t need one. They speak of a charming, charismatic surgeon, in whose hands they place their lives. Their stories are heart-breaking.

And there are hundreds of women Paterson treated who now have to watch and wait to see if their cancer will return after he botched their surgery.

Barbara Lewis's cancer has now returned after a botched mastectomy. Credit: ITV Tonight

The Department of Health has just announced it is to hold an independent non-statutory inquiry beginning next month. But for some of the women it isn’t enough - one described it as a "cop out" - because it will not be able to compel witnesses to give evidence.

With so many key questions of people in positions of authority in Paterson’s NHS trust it is perhaps little wonder they are demanding no less than a full public inquiry.

This is a story which isn’t over yet. I have rarely reported on one which is so unnerving and sickening - and which will play out in Paterson’s victims lives for decades to come.

Yet again it goes to the heart of that near-sacred trust between doctor and patient: a trust that we place whole-heartedly at some of the lowest and most frightening times of our lives.

It is a shocking story of that trust abused - and how the abuser could and should have been stopped sooner.

  • The Butcher Surgeon - A Scandal Uncovered will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm on Thursday