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`No hiding place' for incompetent doctors

FAILING DOCTORS could be "named and shamed" as part of a government drive to ensure standards in all hospitals reach national levels.

Special squads of doctors, nurses and managers will also be sent in immediately to deal with hospitals that do not come up to scratch, Alan Milburn, the Health minister, promised yesterday. The aim is to ensure that problems in the past will not continue where doctors have been able to practise for years while not being subject to external standards.

It was revealed this week that Rodney Ledward, the gynaecologist at the centre of one of Britain's worst medical scandals, was in charge of monitoring his own performance between 1989 and 1996, ensuring his failures remained undiscovered for years. More than 170 women have now come forward, claiming they have been injured by Mr Ledward, some saying they suffered pain and disability for years.

Speaking at the National Primary Care conference yesterday, Mr Milburn said new emphasis would be put on publishing clinical outcome data so that results could be compared over time and between clinical teams.

The new Commission for Health Improvement, announced last July, will be given access to data about individual doctors as well as the power to carry out spot-checks, visits and order immediate interventions in hospitals.

If, in the course of an investigation, the commission finds problems with standards of clinical services, based on the data about performances of individual doctors, which are so serious that patients are put at risk, it will have the power to issue an immediate public interest report.

This could not only name the department but also individual doctors who have failed to come up to clinical standards required.

The director of the commission will be the National Health Service equivalent of the head of the Ofsted schools inspectors. He will oversee a rolling programme of reviewing NHS trusts' performance and ensuring that clinical standards are up to scratch across the board.

"There will no longer be any hiding place for those doctors or managers who fail to acknowledge the seriousness of problems inside their own organisation," Mr Milburn told the conference.