A randy doctor, a vasectomised husband, an unfaithful wife, another tale of modern sleaze. But the good folk of Kirton in Lindsey have reacted in surprising ways. By Esther Oxford `I'd like to put Dr Pilsworth across my knee and spank his bottom. Why f...
When Dr Keith Pilsworth looked out of his dinky doctor's car on Monday morning, he saw a group of women outside his surgery. It was a peculiar sight in the village of Kirton in Lindsey, near Scunthorpe, where pedestrians are a rare sighting. A banner was propped up against a lamp-post. "Save our doctor!" it said. There were leaflets, too: "Dr Pilsworth is simply the best!" For a moment, one of the women later recalled, there was a bashful silence. Then a burst of joy, tears and hugs. The "prodigal son" had returned - albeit temporarily. Mugs of tea appeared from nowhere.

It had been a trying few weeks. Famous for all the wrong reasons, the deathly quiet village had been besieged by reporters and photographers all anxious for a shot and a quote. Dr Pilsworth's surgery, a bungalow with a clinic extension lumped on the back, had become the new tourist attraction for curious passers-by.

"They've been wanting the dirt," explained a disgruntled patient. "They just want to hear about him having sex with that ... that patient," she burst out, struggling to contain her words. "But we don't want our doctor to be punished anymore. We just want him back."

For those looking for dirt, there is plenty to wade in. The married father of three, dubbed "the love-cheat doctor" by the tabloids, was last week found guilty by the General Medical Council of serious professional misconduct. For five months, Dr Pilsworth, 48, had frolicked and flirted with married, 32-year-old Marion Smith, in her home, in his home, in hotels, car parks and other public places. He had even promised to marry her. The affair ended when her husband, Mark, who'd had a vasectomy, discovered opened contraception packages among his wife's belongings and confronted the doctor.

Dr Pilsworth's patients are peeved that he put his career on the line for an affair. "Didn't he think about us?" said one of the campaigners. "What were we supposed to do once he lost his job?" One old lady described herself as furious: "I'd like to put Dr Pilsworth across my knee and spank his bottom," she said, stamping her crutches on the ground. "Why forsake all, for a fling with that woman?"

But strike him off the medical register? After 22 years of dedicated service to 5,000 patients? Never! "Dr Pilsworth set up this surgery from scratch," explained Dot Westen, a patient of Dr Pilsworth since 1971. "He is there for us whenever we need him - day or night." And he has saved lives - many lives, say the villagers.

"I phoned him up in the middle of the night, when I was depressed," said a campaigning patient, shivering in the sleet and sub-zero wind. "He said, `Put the kettle on. I'll be round in a tick'."

"My son had pneumonia and he recognised it straight away. ... He sent the X-ray machine round to my house, then arranged a place for him in hospital," said another, clutching a mug of tea to warm her hands.

On and on they went, describing one kind deed after another. The picture pieced together was of a devoted, clever doc- tor, who went beyond his job description. "Isn't everyone allowed to make a mistake in their life?" was the chorus.

The treatment of Mrs Smith was less charitable. Last week, 30 or 40 people gathered outside her house, with their banners and leaflets, and ordered her to leave the village. Mrs Smith acquiesced.

The affair between Dr Pilsworth and Mrs Smith began in August 1993. Dr Pilsworth, who studied psychology and medicine at Cambridge University, was having "partnership problems" at his practice. When the attractive Mrs Smith asked him along to a "busty strippers" performance in Newcastle, Dr Pilsworth started viewing his patient in a fresh light.

Mrs Smith, known as "Mrs A" during the disciplinary hearing, approached Dr Pilsworth at his surgery, offering subsequent invitations. Gradually, Dr Pilsworth realised that he was attracted to the mother of three. After two failed rendezvous (one in an alley, where they managed to miss each other, and another in the closed-down annex of a nursing home, where someone interrupted their passionate fumblings) they had sex together - in the back of a car.

From then on the lovers met frequently. Dr Pilsworth gave his lover money. Mrs Smith bought expensive underwear and had her hair cut and dyed in the same style as Mrs Pilsworth. Patients who live opposite the surgery spoke of a woman "who looked very much like Mrs Pilsworth" regularly stopping by at the surgery. "I thought it was his wife at the time," said one. "Now I know better."

On one occasion Dr Pilsworth booked Mr Smith into a hospital to have his ulcer looked at. Then he disappeared back to Mrs Smith and made love to her in her matrimonial bed. On another occasion, the couple had sex at the doctor's home.

Dr Pilsworth denied ever criticising his wife to Mrs Smith, but said: "I do recall Mrs A being in my bedroom in my house and saying she liked pale cream satin and didn't like my wife's taste in bedding. ... But I did not criticise my wife's taste to her. I like my wife's taste."

A film of the lovers "in a state of undress" was their undoing. Mr Smith found it and developed it. When he threatened to report the liaison to the General Medical Council, a furious Mrs Pilsworth told him to go ahead: "He deserves it."

"I accept I made use of the professional doctor-patient relationship between Mrs A and myself to disguise our personal relationship," a humbled Dr Pilsworth told the hearing. "I accept I had led Mrs A to believe her future lay with me and that she was deeply hurt by the break-up of our relationship. ... I accept that I have damaged the relationship between Mrs A and her husband and family, and that I have damaged my own family. I accept what I did was a gross abuse of trust."

The villagers are satisfied. Their bespectacled doctor has suffered enough, they say. All they want now is to see him back. "Why pick on Dr Pilsworth? Having an affair has not affected his ability as a doctor! There are doctors out there who are molesting patients, assaulting them, killing them. It is not just!"

Every night they meet in the village square, shout, petition and wave "Bring our doctor back!" banners. Every morning they stand outside the surgery, in sleet, wind and snow, collecting signatures, handing out support stickers and talking of future meetings in the town hall. A local businessman has offered to provide as many coaches as is necessary to cart the protesters around. Next month, they plan to picket the GMC when Dr Pilsworth's appeal is due to be debated.

The GMC is standing firm about the decision to strike Dr Pilsworth off. "Good medical practice depends on the maintenance of trust between a doctor and his patient," said the chairman, Sir Herbert Duthie. "Your conduct ... constituted a breach of the trust you owed Mr and Mrs A."

But the GMC's definition of "serious professional misconduct" is too narrow, the villagers say. "Why doesn't the GMC focus its attention on violent or incompetent doctors rather than doctors who commit adultery?" asked one aggravated woman.

Such concern was echoed earlier this year by the sociologist Marilynn Rosenthal, author of The Incompetent Doctor. For her book, some 60 consultant surgeons, senior GPs and health service executives were guaranteed anonymity in return for frank disclosures about the way doctors and their employers deal with incompetent colleagues.

According to a manager of a family health services authority, 10 per cent of Britain's doctors could be defined as a potential danger to their patients. But only a tiny proportion of their mistakes and misdeeds ever reaches the GMC. And of these complaints, more than 95 per cent are rejected without investigation. These complaints have included allegations of a doctor mistakenly injecting a patient with a fatal drug overdose, failure to diagnose life-threatening conditions and sexual harassment.

Of those who are struck off, nearly half can expect to be quietly reinstated. Past examples include a GP who admitted sexually assaulting a young woman, another GP who refused to visit two sick children - one of whom later died - and a doctor who prescribed slaps on the bottom to women with psycho- sexual problems.

Indeed, despite the GMC's hard line over doctors who have sex with patients, Dr Pilsworth's supporters are optimistic about his chances of winning his appeal. "The GMC will not stick by its ruling when it discovers how strong his support network is," said Joan Coy, 45, mother of five. Mrs Westen, also on the front line, is already planning Dr Pilsworth's welcome- back party. "I'm going to tie yellow ribbons round the trees," she said.

Dr Pilsworth is keeping mum. His barrister has advised him not to talk to the press. But he says the odd word to his patients and they relay his exact phrases back to each other. To them, it seems, Dr Pilsworth is a local hero - a local hero they'll do anything to win back.