Wednesday, March 17, 1999 Published at 17:04 GMT
Inquiry ordered into botched operations
Frank Dobson has ordered an independent inquiry
Health Secretary Frank Dobson has announced an independent inquiry into a hospital's failure to pick up on the poor clinical performance of a Kent gynaecologist.
But patients' representatives are angry that it will not be public and will not address issues related to the doctor's private work.
Rodney Ledward was banned from practising last September after a General Medical Council (GMC) hearing found him guilty of serious professional misconduct linked to botched operations.
One woman had her ovaries removed without her consent and another suffered a ruptured bladder.
Mr Ledward was a consultant gynaecologist at the South Kent Hospitals NHS Trust from 1980 until he was sacked in December 1996.
In the last three weeks, at least two more women have come forward.
In November, Mr Dobson asked the trust to conduct an internal review of the circumstances leading to Mr Ledward's dismissal and has now decided to opt for an independent inquiry.
He said: "This independent inquiry will ensure that shortcomings are identified, lessons are learned, and are seen to be learned.
"It is vital that the public have full confidence in the NHS' commitment to clinical quality, and know that steps are being taken now to ensure that it is of the highest possible standard."
The inquiry will examine:
It will also make recommendations for the NHS arising from the case, particularly concerning clinical governance.
The inquiry, to be headed by Jean Ritchie QC, will be conducted in private and will report directly to Mr Dobson.
Its findings will be made public.
The South Kent Hospitals NHS Trust welcomed the inquiry and said it would participate fully.
But Paul Watkins, chairman of the South East Kent Community Health Council (CHC), said he was "disappointed" at the decision not to hold a public inquiry and to limit it to looking solely at Mr Ledward's NHS operations.
The council, which is representing many of Mr Ledward's former patients, had been calling for a full public inquiry.
Mr Watkins said the problems in the private sector appeared to have been worse than those in the NHS.
For example, private patients' medical records had been lost so there was no way of identifying which operations Mr Ledward carried out.
"Some women do not know what happened to them," said Mr Watkins.
Private patients' records are the responsibility of consultants, whereas NHS records are kept centrally.
Mr Watkins said over 200 private patients had attended CHC meetings.
Some had been transferred to the NHS after developing complications following private surgery by Mr Ledward.
Many needed counselling.
Mr Watkins said the inquiry needed to address the problems of accountability and lack of clinical governance in the private sector, which he said was more worrying than in the NHS.
And he called for an independent arbitration system to be set up to deal with private patients' complaints.
The CHC has given evidence to the health select committee which is currently looking into the regulation of the independent healthcare sector.
The government is rumoured to be considering legislation in the next session of Parliament to bring private hospitals under independent investigation.