GMC finds consultant guilty of injuring women

Patients prove case against gynaecologist who was allowed to practice in Britain after being struck off in Canada
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Richard Neale arrived in England from Canada in January 1985 to start what was to become a 14-year reign of terror during which scores of his women patients were injured.

Richard Neale arrived in England from Canada in January 1985 to start what was to become a 14-year reign of terror during which scores of his women patients were injured.

The consultant gynaecologist was already in disgrace, having been charged with serious professional misconduct in relation to the death of a patient during childbirth for which he was later struck off the register of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. But he did not tell his new employer, the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, of his past, and they did not ask.

Mr Neale, now 52, had qualified in London in 1970 and worked there for a number of years before moving to Canada. It was nine months before the Friarage Hospital's managers learnt that the rotund, bespectacled doctor had been struck off in Canada, but they decided that there was nothing they could do because he was already in post. Consultants were like gods and sacking them posed enormous difficulties.

The hospital conducted its own investigation which unearthed complaints about his brusque manner but none about his competence. In 1993, further concerns were raised and another inquiry held but this, too, found no reason to question his clinical competence.

However, in 1995, the hospital finally lost patience with him over his failure to monitor patients, respond to calls when on duty and supervise junior staff. Managers started disciplinary proceedings but were advised by lawyers that the process could take years, during which he would be suspended on full pay. They decided instead to pay him off with £100,000 and give him a good reference. They also agreed to buy his private consulting rooms, Culpepper House in Northallerton, for £56,000 to ensure he left the area.

The repercussions of that good reference are still being felt more than five years later. It is now clear that Mr Neale had botched many operations during the late Eighties and early Nineties at hospitals in Yorkshire. But, armed with the reference, he was able to continue working - and injuring women - all over England.

Steve Spoerry, director of operations at the Friarage, described the reference as "largely defensible". Speaking a year ago, he said the concerns centred on Mr Neale's attitude rather than patients' safety and offering him a pay-off seemed the most sensible solution.

Writing the reference proved tricky. It finally expressed confidence in Mr Neale as a clinician but alluded to "difficulties", which had led to his departure from Northallerton. In Mr Spoerry's words, while giving him what he wanted it "sounded a clear warning note".

That was unfortunately lost on Leicester Royal Infirmary, where he moved first. He worked there for a matter of months before his contract was abruptly terminated after an altercation with a porter. Managers at the hospital complained in the strongest terms to the Friarage when they learnt they had been misled about his past.

Mr Neale emerged next at St Mary's Hospital on the Isle of Wight, where he caused permanent damage to a woman who was among the 14 who gave evidence to the General Medical Council (GMC). He later practised at the private Portland Hospital in London and at a fertility clinic in Harley Street and saw private patients at consulting rooms in Leeds.

In June 1998, the Department of Health finally issued a warning letter advising all hospitals and trusts not to employ him and in September 1999 the GMC suspended him pending the disciplinary hearing which delivered its guilty verdict yesterday.

The case against Mr Neale was mounted by a support group of damaged patients led by Sheila Wright-Hogeland, of Northallerton, one of his victims. More than 180 people have joined the group and 50 are considering legal action.

When the case opened at the GMC in London in June, Kathy Tanner, daughter of Geraldine Krawchuk who died after Mr Neale gave her three times the dose of a banned drug, flew over from Canada to join a demonstration outside the council's offices in Hallam street. It was Mrs Krawchuck's death that led to Neale being struck off in Canada.

Ms Tanner said then: "We are determined to see justice done regarding my mother's death and I fully expect to see Neale extradited back [to Canada] to stand trial for murder."

Claims that the GMC was warned as long ago as 1985 about Mr Neale have been difficult to prove because the council has no records from that time.

The council has no power to ban a doctor solely on the grounds that he or she has been struck off in another country. But the GMC has taken a more robust attitude to such cases and in the last five years half a dozen doctors have been erased from the register after being struck off elsewhere.

New measures proposed by the Department of Health to monitor doctor's performance annually and by the GMC to "revalidate" doctors every five years will, it is claimed, provide patients with the protection that they were cruelly denied in relation to the dangerous and incompetent Mr Neale.