Peter Curran, who is homosexual, denied there was any risk to patients, but said he would not divulge his HIV status if asked. 'If they asked, I would say that it is a private matter and that if they were unhappy about it they should go and see another opthalmologist,' he said.
Bexley Health Authority, which employed Mr Curran at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup, south- east London, and West Hill Hospital, Dartford, Kent, said yesterday that although occupational health specialists had pronounced him fit to continue work, including surgery, he would not return to NHS duties. Severance terms from his pounds 45,000-a-year contract are being negotiated.
Mr Curran, 45, said he had been offered the option of staying at Queen Mary's Hospital. He had decided to leave the health service because his patients would have less choice than those in the private sector as to whether they were placed on his list. 'I could see that I would be in a position where I might have reluctant patients, who would be difficult to manage, and that it wasn't really in my interests, their interests or those of the hospital to continue,' he said. 'Technically, I have been made redundant - I haven't resigned and I haven't been sacked.'
He added: 'I come from a background where public service was placed before self-interest. I find it somewhat ironic that the end result of this affair is that my skills and experience are now only availale to those patients who can afford my fees.'
Mr Curran was obliged to take extended leave of absence last July after a spate of newspaper reports about his private life, alleging that he was performing operations while HIV positive. He said there had been no danger to patients because opthalmology did not require major invasive surgery. He had practised since the mid-1980s on an assumption that he might be carrying the virus, adopting precautions recommended by professional experts.
He said: 'Any good doctor's practice should be such that he does not expose his patients to needless risk. I have been advised that were I HIV positive, I should not need to better my working practices.'
Since resuming his private clinic in October, he had resolved not to mention the controversy surrounding his HIV status, unless a patient raised it first. None had asked, so far.
One former private patient was attempting to take legal action, alleging that he had suffered needless stress after reading last summer's reports. But other patients who knew had 'gone out of their way to be nice' and his private list continued to be full.
'I have also had a number of letters of support from gay doctors. I suspect, however, that the publicity has caused a lot of them to lie low.'
Mr Curran, who claims he was the victim of unreasonable harassment by tabloid newspaper reporters last year, has complained to the Commons heritage select committee, which is investigating possible privacy protection legislation.
Yesterday he sat in the public gallery to watch Kelvin MacKenzie, editor of the Sun, being questioned by MPs. 'I had hoped to obtain a little sadistic pleasure from watching him being grilled,' he said.
Freedom of expression, page 8
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