Hundreds `damaged' by surgeon

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The Independent Online
IN A MEDICAL scandal that is being described as potentially worse than the Bristol heart babies tragedy, more than 100 women may have been injured by an incompetent surgeon who was allowed to continue operating unchecked for more than a decade.

The women, some of whom have suffered pain and disability for years, have contacted the William Harvey hospital, in Kent, claiming they were damaged by Rodney Ledward, who billed himself as "the fastest gynaecologist in the South-east." The scale of the response has astonished patient groups. They are demanding to know why nothing was done to stop the consultant surgeon, who was only struck off the medical register in September.

Mr Ledward, 58, was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council after examination of his surgical record over seven years from 1989 to 1996. The GMC verdict was based on 10 cases in which operations were botched or should not have gone ahead, but scores more women have since come forward and more than 40 are considering legal action.

The hospital said it had received 179 calls from women since the case ended on 30 September, of whom 98 had so far been seen in out-patients.

Doctors considered 24 of these had a continuing medical problem, but a hospital spokes- man could not say how many others were damaged whose injuries had since been repaired. "Where they are entitled to claim compensation we are assisting them to do so," he said.

A public meeting in Folkestone tonight, organised by the South-east Kent Community Health Council, is expected to hear demands for an inquiry into what went wrong. An earlier meeting organised by a patient support group on 29 October heard claims that Mr Ledward allegedly turned up for operations wearing hunting gear, including jodhpurs, and had once boasted that he was the fastest gynaecologist in the South-east after completing seven hysterectomies between 8am and noon.

His cavalier attitude to patients was revealed at the GMC hearing when it emerged that he had removed a woman's ovaries without her permission weeks after telling her that the organs were healthy.

Doctors and managers from the William Harvey hospital are due to attend tonight's meeting to explain why nothing was done to stop Mr Ledward, who was appointed as a consultant in 1980.

The hospital has set up a hotline and is offering all affected women the opportunity to have an examination and further treatment as necessary.

Patient groups say injured women have not complained until now because they did not know they were victims of surgical error. Mr Ledward also operated at the private Bupa St Saviour's hospital in Hythe, Kent, and is alleged to have pressed women to go private by warning them they needed urgent treatment. In some cases he removed the wombs and ovaries of women in their twenties without consent when they could have had simpler treatment and retained their fertility.

Brenda Johnson, organiser of the support group and a patient of Mr Ledward's who has suffered 14 years of pain, said: "He made such a mess of women in operation after operation. What they want to know is why it took 18 years to come out. They want the whole thing out in the open - they want people to know how many have suffered and what happened to them."

Patricia Fearnley, of the Tunbridge Wells solicitors' firm Thomson, Snell and Passmore, which is advising 35 women, said many of those injured were persuaded by Mr Ledward that they had simply been unlucky.

Victim's suffering, page 6

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