A leading QC is to head an independent inquiry to discover how a GP was able to indecently assault 10 women patients, the Department of Health said yesterday.

Anna Pauffley, QC, who represented victims of the Welsh childcare scandal in the late nineties, will lead the investigation ordered by Alana Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, of GP Clifford Ayling, in Maidstone, Kent. He was 69 when he was jailed for four years in December 2000 for 13 indecent assaults between 1991 and 1998.

One of the key issues of the inquiry will focus on why Ayling was allowed to continue practising at his surgery for two years after he was arrested in November 1998. He was struck off by the General Medical Council in June last year.

Solicitor Sarah Harman, who has represented Ayling's victims, said the women had welcomed the inquiry although it will not be held in public, something they had sought.

"The women have had to wait so long for this inquiry," said Angela Hodges, a former patient who gave evidence to police and was a witness at Ayling's civil trial. "All these delays add to the anguish and distress Ayling caused to his victims. I am so pleased we are now going to have the opportunity to take part in a process which hopefully will prevent women being abused in the future as we were abused by Ayling. It still angers me that so many complaints were made about Ayling over the years which were ignored."