Inquiry call over `demon' doctor's reign

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 120 women who suffered at the hands of an incompetent surgeon are considering legal action for compensation in a case that is developing into one of the worst medical scandals of the decade.

The case of Rodney Ledward, who styled himself the fastest gynaecologist in the South-east, is continuing to generate scores of calls from worried women to the William Harvey hospital in Ashford, Kent, where he was allowed to operate unchecked for 16 years from 1980 until he was sacked in 1996.

Mr Ledward, 58, who operated in NHS and private Bupa hospitals, was only struck off the medical register in September. Since then, 418 women have called the hospital about their treatment and lawyers say there are many others whose stories have yet to be told.

The Tory MP and shadow foreign secretary, Michael Howard, has called for a public inquiry into the case. Speaking in an adjournment debate late on Thursday, Mr Howard, who is MP for Folkestone and Hythe, said comparisons would inevitably be drawn with the Bristol babies disaster. "The tragic events ... are in my view at least as serious at the events that led to the Bristol inquiry," he said.

Alan Milburn, the Health minister, condemned the surgeon and said the physical and mental distress caused to his patients should never have been allowed to happen. "I am appalled by Mr Ledward's activities and by the fact that they were allowed to go on for so very long. He was an incompetent, irresponsible and arrogant surgeon who seemingly had little or no regard for his patients."

Mr Milburn said ministers had now received a report on the case from the hospital and would consider calls for a public inquiry. Further questions had been put to the hospital including how no alarm bells had sounded when Mr Ledward was involved in 12 medical litigation cases from 1983.

He added that 168 of the 418 patients who had called the trust so far had been seen and a "preliminary analysis" had shown that 22 NHS patients and 15 private patients may have suffered injury.

Yesterday, that figure was disputed by lawyers acting for the women. Patricia Fearnley, of Thomson, Snell and Passmore, in Tunbridge Wells, which is handling the bulk of the cases, said: "That is very much on the low side. I am used to dealing with medical negligence cases and there are very few of these women about whom I have thought immediately they have not got a claim."

Ms Fearnley said a public inquiry was necessary because many of the operations were not needed and had been done in a private Bupa hospital, St Saviour's, in Hythe. There was a question about the lack of regulation of the private sector.

She added: "This man was a demon. Some women are only just starting to speak about what happened to them because it is very private. I don't think we have heard the full horror of it yet."