A disgraced surgeon accused of botching a series of operations and causing a dozen deaths is due to appear before the General Medical Council (GMC) tomorrow almost four years after he was suspended from his NHS post.
The delay in bringing the case against Christopher Ingoldby, 54, a consultant at Pinderfields and Pontefract NHS trust until he was sacked last year, is an indictment of the NHS disciplinary system which has cost the trust almost £1m in salary, locum and legal fees.
Mr Ingoldby, known locally as "Bungleby", is among the medical profession's worst offenders. One patient has already been awarded more than £100,000 in damages against him and four others have received compensation. A further nine cases are outstanding, says the trust. Another 18 claims for compensation have been discontinued, some because they were ruled out of time. A number of patients are known to be unhappy with the legal advice they received.
Tomorrow, Mr Ingoldby faces a charge of serious professional misconduct in relation to his "actions and professional behaviour" towards 12 patients. It is alleged that he failed to prepare for surgery by carrying out pre-operative investigations on the patients, and that he failed to involve himself in ensuring proper care was provided following surgery. If found guilty he is likely to be struck off the medical register.
Concerns were first raised about Mr Ingoldby in February 1992, two years after he started working for the trust, when he severed the bile duct of Susan Wainwright, while carrying out keyhole surgery to remove gallstones. The High Court later awarded her compensation believed to be £175,000.
In 1997, a second patient, Brian McDermott, 64, died from loss of blood following an operation for stomach cancer. An inquest recorded a verdict of misadventure, but the case triggered an inquiry which heard so many complaints about Mr Ingoldby that its report ran to 2,000 pages. The report went unpublished after Mr Ingoldby won a High Court injunction. His lawyers argued that as the inquiry had been carried out by the NHS executive rather than his employers it should not be used in any disciplinary proceedings.
The trust then started a second inquiry which was delayed by further legal wrangling but finally resulted in Mr Ingoldby being sacked in July 2000. The independent NHS panel found him guilty of "serious acts of misconduct and misjudgement". He continued to draw his salary of £61,600 a year while he appealed. The appeal was dismissed in June 2001.
The NHS disciplinary process was criticised by David Hinchliffe, chairman of the Commons health select committee and local MP, as "complicated, cumbersome and costly". The GMC said it has been unable to start disciplinary proceedings until other inquiries were concluded.
Mr Ingoldby has consistently denied that he botched operations and maintained that his results were no worse than his colleagues. A spokeswoman for the GMC said the case was expected to last two weeks.