No outside checks on scandal surgeon

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THE GYNAECOLOGIST at the centre of one of Britain's worst medical scandals was in charge of monitoring his own performance, ensuring his failures remained uncovered for years.

Rodney Ledward, the self-styled fastest gynaecologist in the South-east, was put in charge of clinical audits for the obstetrics and gynaecology department at the William Harvey hospital, in Ashford, Kent, in 1989. In this role, he was responsible for monitoring his own and the rest of the department's performance.

More than 170 women have now come forward, claiming to have been injured by Mr Ledward, some saying they suffered pain and disability for years.

The surgeon was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council after examination of his surgical record between 1989 and 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 confirmed last night that Mr Ledward had been put in charge of clinical audits but said this was standard NHS practice at the time and there was no reason to assume there was any problem.

Cases such as Mr Ledward's have caused concern at the Department of Health, which has been pressing for more external checks and balances. "Bad doctors should no more expect to be employed by the health service than bad teachers should expect to be employed by the education service," the Health minister Alan Milburn said last night.

In July, Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, announced the creation of the Commission for Health Improvement whose director would be the NHS equivalent of the head of the Ofsted schools inspectors. He oversees a rolling programme of reviewing NHS trusts' performance and ensuring high clinical standards.

Mr Ledward was also in charge of postgraduate education in the department, overseeing doctors' training. He also worked as a district tutor for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. As such he was in charge of various management functions.

The South Kent Hospitals NHS Trust has been asked to provide a report into the Ledward case within a fortnight, after which ministers will decide what action to take. There are also bound to be questions over why no anaesthetist made a complaint about Mr Ledward.