Victim of disgraced surgeon deserted by private sector

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A PRIVATE patient who has been permanently maimed after the disgraced gynaecologist Rodney Ledward operated on her seven times has had her attempts to obtain help blocked because of the lack of regulation of the private sector.

Anita Hill's experience at the hands of Mr Ledward, who was struck off the medical register last September, fell so far short of acceptable standards that the NHS consultant she went to see recommended she sue for negligence. However, her attempts to elicit a response from Mr Ledward's legal advisers and medical insurers have so far failed.

Mrs Hill, 54, who spent seven years in and out of hospital and at one stage suffered a perforated bowel, was initially refused help by St Saviour's hospital in Hythe, Kent, despite a request from an NHS consultant who said she needed further surgery. St Saviour's is run by the British United Provident Association, Bupa.

The South East Kent community health council accused Bupa of "dragging its heels" over the issue and lawyers for the victims said its refusal to accept a share of the responsibility was "reprehensible."

Later Bupa relented, after being contacted by The Independent, and agreed to offer Mrs Hill a free consultation that is due to take place today. The company also agreed to donate pounds 2,000 to the patient support group set up by the community health council for victims of Mr Ledward.

The lack of regulation of the private health industry is to be investigated by the House of Commons health select committee, starting next month.

Mrs Hill, whose ordeal began 12 years ago, believed she had simply been unlucky until the full extent of Mr Ledward's incompetence emerged in November. More than 400 women have contacted the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent, since he was struck off the medical register in September and over 120 are considering legal action. About half the women, including Mrs Hill, were private patients.

She said: "If it wasn't for the NHS I wouldn't have anyone to help me. They have told me who to turn to and what to do. The private sector have not been to any of our meetings. The message is, `If you have still got health insurance we can see you but if not, tough'."

She added: "I thought there would be someone in the private sector to go to if you had problems but I learnt to my cost that there wasn't. My whole life has been ruined and I have had nobody to turn to."

Patricia Fearnley, Mrs Hill's solicitor from Thomson, Snell and Passmore in Tunbridge Wells, which is handling most of the negligence cases, said: "It comes as a surprise to private patients that there is no one to complain to, because they think they are paying for the best in medical care."

A spokeswoman for Bupa said the firm had endeavoured to help Mr Ledward's patients by offering free consultations. She added: "Patients are stuck in a private trap and we don't like the situation. We don't employ consultants as the NHS does and they are not answerable to us. We appreciate it is difficult for the patients but it is difficult for us to help because their complaint is with the consultant, not the hospital."