Surgeon `covered up his mistakes'

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A GYNAECOLOGIST was accused yesterday of removing a woman's ovaries without her permission weeks after telling her that the organs were healthy.

Consultant surgeon Rodney Ledward, 58, of Folkestone, Kent, allegedly performed a hysterectomy on his 48-year-old patient so incompetently that she later suffered extreme blood loss, resulting in the removal of two litres of blood from her stomach and abdomen.

At a hearing of the General Medical Council, the medical profession's disciplinary body, it was claimed that Mr Ledward then wrote to his patient's GP to tell her that the procedure had been "uncomplicated", when her condition had in fact been approaching a state of clinical shock.

Mr Ledward, who has 33 years' medical experience, is accused of a catalogue of misdemeanours concerning the cases of 14 patients over seven years at the William Harvey NHS Hospital at Ashford, Kent, and private hospitals in the county.

The hearing of the GMC's professional conduct committee was told that Mr Ledward also faces claims that he tried to profit from his NHS patients by persuading them to opt for private treatment at a private hospital where he was employed part-time.

Lawyers for the GMC said Mr Ledward had told his 48-year-old patient that her ovaries were still ovulating and healthy five weeks before she underwent the hysterectomy at a private hospital in November 1992. But while the woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, was having surgery, Mr Ledward removed the organs without having earlier sought her consent.

After the operation, Mr Ledward left the hospital and the patient was removed to a post-operative care room where her condition rapidly deteriorated as she suffered massive blood loss through inadequate stitching to the points where her womb had been removed.

James Badenoch, QC, for the GMC, told the hearing: "Her condition was approaching haemorrhagic shock. She was obviously losing blood and losing a lot of it."

While nurses monitored the woman's condition, senior doctors and administrative staff tried to contact Mr Ledward by leaving messages at his London and Folkestone homes. Eventually contact was made, and Mr Ledward carried out a second operation at 11pm, some nine hours after the original procedure. During the second operation it was found that "in excess" of two litres of blood had leaked into the patient's stomach and abdomen.

The hearing was told that the gynaecologist, who also worked as an obstetrician, later wrote a letter to his patient's doctor in which he failed to make any mention of the post-operative complications.

Mr Badenoch said: "To describe the operation after this terrible post- operative course of events as `uncomplicated' was at the very best a serious gloss on the truth, and at worst totally misleading. With regards to the removal of the ovaries, I need say no more than that it was obviously inexcusable to do that."

Mr Badenoch outlined four categories under which the surgeon's misdemeanours could be gathered: clinical and surgical incompetence, inappropriate delegation to junior doctors, lack of involvement when his patients developed complications and dishonesty in search of personal gain. In two cases it is alleged that Mr Ledward sought to persuade patients that they could receive certain treatment only at a private hospital.

Mr Ledward denies failing to obtain his patient's consent for the removal of her ovaries. He also denies causing the bleeding and making misleading statements to her GP.

The hearing continues today.