Architect's family may sue doctor

THE FAMILY of Sir James Stirling, the architect who died after a hernia operation, is considering legal action against the consultant anaesthetist.

Last week Dr Paul Knapman, the Westminster coroner, who recorded a verdict of death by misadventure on Sir James, criticised Dr Peter Hardwick for leaving him three hours after his operation to join an organised walk on Hampstead Heath, north London.

Dr Hardwick has been involved in two actions for medical negligence. In 1985, he and Henry Goldin, a surgeon, paid pounds 280,000 in damages to the family of a four- year-old boy who was left brain- damaged after an operation to remove a tumour from his right leg. They had denied liability. A year later Dr Hardwick was named in an action against Hampstead Health Authority after a woman was left brain-damaged by an operation. The case was settled out of court.

Sir James, 68, who lived in Hampstead, died from acute bronchial-pneumonia in June, 12 days after being knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

He was admitted to the St John and St Elizabeth private hospital, St John's Wood, north London, for a routine hernia operation. Three hours later he was 'unwell' after developing respiratory problems caused by inhaling stomach contents. He was transferred to another private hospital because the St John and St Elizabeth did not have an intensive care unit. He died eight days later. Sarah Leigh, the family's solicitor, expressed concern at Dr Hardwick's treatment of Sir James.

After his death the medical advisory committee at the St John and St Elizabeth hospital set up an internal review to investigate Dr Hardwick's behaviour. Its report will be published next week. A spokesman for the hospital added that Dr Hardwick was not a member of staff. 'He is hired only for specific cases,' he said.

Although Dr Hardwick refused to discuss the case, he told the Hampstead and Highgate Express this week that the allegations were unfounded. 'I took all the precautions necessary, but this was far from routine surgery,' he added.