Another surgeon under scrutiny after deaths

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Patients of yet another NHS surgeon accused of bungling operations will shortly hear the outcome of an investigation that has dogged their lives for more than two years.

Patients of yet another NHS surgeon accused of bungling operations will shortly hear the outcome of an investigation that has dogged their lives for more than two years.

Christopher Ingoldby has been suspended since January 1998 from his work as a gastrointestinal surgeon at Pinderfields and Pontefract NHS Trust, Wakefield, after an inquest jury returned a verdict of misadventure on the death of a cancer patient in his care.

Mr Ingoldby denies incompetence and obtained an injunction to prevent details of one NHS investigation being published, but an internal investigation at Pinderfields is to deliver its findings within weeks.

There are currently 62 separate claims against Mr Ingoldby, covering a period between 1989 and 1997. Fourteen involve the death of patients.

Tougher action against failing doctors will be proposed in the NHS National Plan next month. The Independent on Sunday has learned that Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, plans a government bill to split the General Medical Council's role following complaints about its failure to take robust action.

Investigations into failing doctors will be handed to the NHS Commission for Health Improvement, and it could be made more independent with a lay majority, effectively ending self-regulation by doctors.

The doctors' leaders believe that, after the Shipman and Ledward scandals, public opinion could be swinging back in favour of surgeons and this week they are planning to launch a fight-back.

The IoS has learned that BMA leaders are preparing to deliver a stinging rebuke to the Government over the hours consultants are expected to work.

The BMA will tell the Commons select committee on health that it wants the NHS consultants' contracts to be reformed to include the EU Working Time Directive, to force hospitals to limit their official working week to 48 hours.

Attacking the contract as "arcane", the BMA will tell the MPs: "Consultants' workload is now increasing in both volume and intensity to an extent that is putting individuals under great pressure and is leading to significant demoralisation. It is depressingly common to hear consultants wish for nothing more than early retirement."

The BMA warns it would be "highly dangerous" for the NHS to change the contract to reward consultants for the number of operations they carried out or the patients they dealt with. The contract should allow young consultants to balance family life with a demanding job.

In a further development, doctors' leaders disclosed that Frank Dobson, the former Health Secretary, signed the approval form to allow the 76-year-old pathologist at the centre of an investigation into 200 misdiagnosed cancer cases to continue working.

There was no suggestion of wrong-doing by Mr Dobson, but it will be used by doctors' leaders in a fight-back by the profession to defend the reputation of other doctors the BMA claims are overworked because of a shortage of consultants.

Mr Dobson, who stepped down to fight Ken Livingstone to beMayor of London, approved a five-week extension to the working career of pathologist James Elwood in 1998. Last week, a review was launched into 10,000 cases handled by Dr Elwood, now 78 and retired, sparking a row about the age of some health professionals.

Dr Elwood's former hospital at the Swindon and Marlborough NHS trust confirmed it had sought a variation order from the Secretary of State to allow him to carry on long after his normal retirement age of 70.

A BMA source said: "In the case of Elwood, the trust actually sought a variation order from the Government so that Elwood could continue. It was personally signed by the Secretary of State."

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