Top fertility doctor accused of cavalier attitude and 'financial sharp practice'

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's richest private doctors has been accused of overcharging patients and treating them in a cavalier manner when they consulted him for fertility problems.

Professor Ian Craft, 68, the director of the London Gynaecology and Fertility Centre based in Harley Street, has earned more than £9m over the past seven years from providing in-vitro fertilisation to childless couples and single women, according to accounts held at Companies House.

But, in a disciplinary hearing before the General Medical Council, he was accused of indulging in "financial sharp practice" by charging patients for things "they did not want, did not need or did not get".

Professor Craft, who has spent his career cocking a snook at the medical establishment, sparked controversy in 1997 when he helped a woman from Wales, Liz Buttle, to become Britain's oldest mother. She was 60 at the time.

He was charged yesterday with serious professional misconduct over his treatment of two women in the late 1990s. If found guilty, he could be struck off the medical register.

The hearing was told that Ms B of Teddington, Middlesex, was childless and aged 40 when she consulted Professor Craft in 1998 for IVF treatment. She did not have a partner and was desperate to have a baby, for which she had set aside £2,500. However, Professor Craft told her that she had endometriosis [growths in the womb] and would have to pay to have that treated first, even though the treatment was, in fact, available on the NHS.

"He told her that only two doctors in the country - himself and another doctor - could carry it out. Other doctors could cause serious damage and destroy her chances of pregnancy.

"Even though [she] did not have the funds to pay for the procedure she felt that any other doctor would ruin her chance of having a baby. She felt pressurised to do it," Joanna Glynn QC, for the GMC, said.

The procedure was performed at the private Wellington Hospital in St John's Wood, north London, and the bill came to £2,375. This included additional charges of which Professor Craft had not warned her.

The amount would have been more had staff not woken her after the operation, just before midnight, and told her she would have to pay an extra £500 if she stayed overnight. "She was left in no doubt that, to avoid further costs she could not afford, [she should] dress and leave the hospital," Ms Glynn said.

Later, Ms B was charged £125 for a three-minute consultation in which she stood in Professor Craft's office and was simply asked if she was OK, the panel heard. When the receptionist demanded the payment, Ms B insisted that it must be a mistake. However, after speaking to Professor Craft, the panel heard that the receptionist told her: "You want to continue your treatment here, don't you?"

Ms B also claimed she was hoodwinked into giving consent to intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) which cost £1,200 on top of the cost of the IVF.

ICSI is a procedure designed to help sub-fertile men to father children and involves the injection of a single sperm into the egg. But badly kept records did not show what advice was given or when the decision to have ICSI was made, the panel heard.

A second patient, Mrs K, contacted the clinic in late 2001 or early 2002 after spotting an advert for egg donors but was not warned of the risks. She had polycystic ovarian syndrome and, after the procedure to remove her eggs, she became so bloated she looked like she was five months pregnant, the panel was told.

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.