GMC allows sacked surgeon to return to work

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A disgraced surgeon who was sacked last month after a two-year official hospital inquiry into allegations that he botched 84 operations and caused 13 deaths has been told by the General Medical Council that he is temporarily free to return to work on accident and emergency wards.

A disgraced surgeon who was sacked last month after a two-year official hospital inquiry into allegations that he botched 84 operations and caused 13 deaths has been told by the General Medical Council that he is temporarily free to return to work on accident and emergency wards.

The GMC says its decision - made by a committee established in the light of the Harold Shipman case to speed up disciplinary procedures - is based on the fact that Mr Christopher Ingoldby's technical capability is not in question.

But the decision has stung 60 bereaved families and former patients of Mr Ingoldby whose anger over what they perceive to be a lack of action by the GMC in the case is compounded by the fact that he remains on full pay two and a half years after he was suspended, pending an appeal against his dismissal.

Solicitors representing the families have asked Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, to examine the interim judgment, which has been made pending a full GMC disciplinary hearing into the Ingoldby case, at which it will decide whether to strike him off.

The families, who want Mr Ingoldby removed from all surgery until that GMC hearing, point to the 1998 findings of an NHS investigation panel set up by the current Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson which banned Mr Ingoldby from all surgery until both his employer - the Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield - and the GMC had considered the case.

Investigations into Mr Ingoldby - a gastrointestinal surgeon whose record earned him the soubriquets "Bungleby" and "007" among colleagues - have already taken three years and cost £5m. But the GMC indicated it could take no action in the case until an internal inquiry by Pinderfields had been concluded.

His ability was first questioned in February 1992 after he accidentally severed Susan Wainwright's bile duct during keyhole surgery on her gall bladder, leaving her with severe liver damage. The High Court later awarded her £175,000 damages.

But it was when Brian McDermott bled to death following a stomach cancer operation in October 1997 that a clinical audit of his work was undertaken, resulting in his suspension three months later.

Such was the volume of ensuing complaints that Professor Donaldson, then Northern and Yorkshire regional director of the NHS Executive, launched the independent inquiry to decide whether the trust was at fault and whether there was a case for disciplinary action.

The inquiry's report, which ran to 2,000 pages, was never published after Mr Ingoldby won a High Court injunction, arguing that the report should not be used in disciplinary proceedings as it had been carried out by the NHS Executive rather than by his employers.

The report's value was thus greatly diminished as both the hospital trust and the GMC decided not to rely on its findings for their own disciplinary action, setting back the inquiry still further. Even when the hospital began its own inquiry from scratch in September 1998 further legal wranglings delayed a conclusion until last month, when Mr Ingoldby was sacked.

Mr Ingoldby's case was only the second to be dealt with by GMC's interim orders committee (IOC), which provides greater powers for action pending the council's professional conduct hearings. The IOC ruled that Mr Ingoldby should not undertake surgical procedures except in A&E departments and should notify employers of such conditions. It did not provide an insight into its reasoning, which is understood to be based on the fact that A&E work will call only on Mr Ingoldby's technical skills - not his abilities in pre and post-operative care.

"The idea of him turning up at an A&E ward is astonishing," said David Russell, of the Wakefield firm Towells, which is representing families. "Though he must disclose his position to a prospective employer there is no provision for disclosure to any patient he might treat."

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