Second inquiry into surgeon

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The Independent Online
AN INDEPENDENT inquiry is to be set up into the work of gynaecologist Rodney Ledward, the surgeon accused of injuring more than 400 women under his care, the Department of Health said yesterday.

The inquiry was ordered by the Health Secretary Frank Dobson following mounting criticism into how Mr Ledward, who styled himself the fastest gynaecologist in the South-east, was allowed to continue practising for so long without the effects of his NHS clinical work being identified.

The review, which Mr Dobson wants completed by June, stops short of the public inquiry demanded by Mr Ledward's patients and their lawyers but will be an extensive examination into the internal workings of his employer, South Kent Hospitals NHS Trust, where he was allowed to operate for 16 years until his was sacked in 1996.

Some 418 former patients have so far come forward with complaints about Mr Ledward's work, many of them are seeking compensation.

Mr Ledward, who operated at the William Harvey hospital in Ashford, Kent, and at private Bupa hospitals, was eventually struck off the medical register following a General Medical Council hearing last September.

The Trust has already prepared an internal report for Mr Dobson, who has said the independent inquiry can extend its remit "where appropriate" in an effort to shore up public confidence in the NHS's handling of incompetent surgeons.

Last night Mr Dobson said: "The Trust's internal report to me will form a useful starting point for a more extensive and independent review. This will ensure that shortcomings are identified, lessons are learned and are seen to be learned.

"It is vital that the public have full confidence in the NHS's commitment to clinical quality, and know that steps are being taken now to ensure that it is of the highest possible standard."

According to Department of Health officials last night, the inquiry will "inquire into the care of NHS patients treated by Mr Rodney Ledward at South Kent Hospitals NHS Trust between 1990 and 1996, but including earlier events where appropriate".

And the review will centre on why "serious failure" in Mr Ledward's clinical practice were not identified and acted upon earlier. It will scrutinise what action the Trust took when those failures eventually did come to light, with the onus resting on those managers responsible for maintaining the hospital's clinical audit.

Mr Ledward, who earned up to pounds 200,000 a year topped up by his private work, maintained that he was a political scapegoat. He has referred to his case as "doctor bashing" and said: There is some mischief going on somewhere. I was warned it was on the cards."