Surgeon who botched operations struck off

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A SENIOR consultant gynaecologist who botched a series of operations and then abandoned his patients, leaving them to be patched up by colleagues, was struck off the medical register yesterday.

In a case that carries disturbing echoes of the Bristol heart surgery disaster, Rodney Ledward, 58, of Folkestone, Kent, was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council (GMC) after examination of his surgical record over seven years. His cavalier attitude to patients was revealed when he removed a woman's ovaries without her permission weeks after telling her that the organs were healthy.

This was only one of a catalogue of misdemeanours committed by Mr Ledward in the cases of 11 patients treated between 1989 and 1996 at the William Harvey NHS hospital, Ashford, Kent and St Saviour's private hospital, Hythe, Kent, which is run by BUPA. Charges involving a further three patients were withdrawn after representations from his QC.

His incompetence and misconduct, which had not gone unnoticed by his medical colleagues, only came to public notice after an incident in January 1996 when he perforated a private patient's bladder during a hysterectomy at St Saviour's hospital. Despite the appearance of blood in her urine, Mr Ledward ordered a test and then left the hospital and switched off his mobile phone.

As the woman's condition deteriorated the hospital staff made urgent attempts to contact him without success. She was later admitted to the William Harvey hospital for further emergency surgery.

The medical director of the William Harvey hospital was so concerned that the hospital suspended Mr Ledward four days later and set up an inquiry headed by a QC. That investigation uncovered evidence of his incompetence and misconduct going back many years and he was dismissed without compensation on 19 December 1997.

Mr Ledward had worked at the William Harvey Hospital as one of four consultant gynaecologists since 1980 and had been qualified as a doctor for 33 years. A hospital spokesmansaid: "We acted as soon as we had evidence ... Establishing evidence of surgical incompetence is very difficult. We strove to establish it and as soon as we had done so we dismissed him."

During the GMC case it emerged that Mr Ledward had misled patients and their GPs. After performing a hysterectomy on a 48-year-old woman so incompetently that she lost two litres of blood, he wrote to the woman's GP to say the procedure had been "uncomplicated". The blood had leaked into her abdomen as a result of poor stitching and required further surgery to remove it; her condition had approached a state of haemorrhagic shock.

In another case, a pregnant woman who asked to have an epidural for a proposed Caesarean and for her husband to be present during the operation was told neither would be possible although such requests were routinely granted.

In two cases, Mr Ledward delegated operations to inexperienced juniors who then got into difficulties.

Two former colleagues from the William Harvey hospital told the GMC hearing that Mr Ledward went against "basic surgical procedures" when operating on another patient.

The GMC found that in three cases, the treatment he gave was "inappropriate" or had "no scientific basis".

Giving judgment, Dr Jeremy Lee Potter, chairman of the GMC's professional conduct committee, told Mr Ledward yesterday: "The standard of care which you provided fell lamentably below that which the public requires and which the medical profession expects of its members."

Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, announced last June, following the conclusion of the Bristol heart case, a duty on NHS trusts to investigate concerns about clinical quality and a requirement on all doctors to take part in a national audit programme, which would involve checks on their individual performance.

The spokesman for the William Harvey hospital said: "We fully support the Government's approach on this." He added that the hospital had appointed a new consultant and was confident of the quality of its gynaecological service.