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Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Pathologist warnings 'went unheeded'
Dr James Elwood
Dr James Elwood has apologised for any errors
A doctor who made hundreds of mistakes was allowed to continue working in the health service despite concerns about his work dating back years.

It emerged on Tuesday that pathologist Dr James Elwood was the subject of two hospital reviews into his work in the mid-1990s.

But Dr Elwood has protested that inaccurate allegations have been made against him, and it appears that his error rate may fall within the limits expected in the NHS.

I am deeply sorry if I have been the cause of distress

Dr James Elwood

The government is to launch an independent inquiry into the case after it was revealed that more than 200 patients from four English hospitals may have been wrongly diagnosed by the 78-year-old freelance pathologist.

Officials at Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon revealed that Dr Elwood made a number of serious mistakes in his work testing for cancer and other diseases.

Seven of the victims of his errors have been deemed as "serious" and one has a "life-threatening" condition.

Dr Elwood, who now lives in Surrey, said: "I am deeply sorry if I have been the cause of distress and suffering to patients as a result of my work at the Swindon and Marlborough NHS Trust.

"I will be co-operating fully with the Trust in their review of this matter."

Latest scandal

The case follows recent high-profile investigations into two gynaecologists which have undermined confidence in the NHS.

The government has responded by announcing a new early warning system for recording medical mistakes designed to ensure incompetent doctors are weeded out at the first opportunity.

Dr Elwood acted as a pathologist examining slides of suspected cancer patients for years at the Swindon hospital, the Royal United in Bath, Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey and the Mid Sussex Hospital.

I will have to go back every year to be checked

Freda Troughton, patient
A review of his work involving 10,000 patients found that his diagnoses may have been wrong in 230 cases, resulting in at least one woman having a mastectomy she did not need.

But this 2% error rate falls well within the normal range expected from a normal histopathologist.

Frimley Park Hospital commissioned a review into Dr Elwood's work after concern was raised in 1994.

His work was also the subject of a review by the Royal United Hospital in March 1997.

He was finally stopped from working after an investigation was launched into his work by the Princess Margaret Hospital last July. Dr Elwood had worked at the hospital between 1995 and 1999.

He has removed himself from the medical register, which means the General Medical Council can take no action against him.

We recognise this is unacceptable for patients. We are deeply sorry

Sonia Mills, Princess Margaret Hospital, Swindon

Dr Elwood's part-time work at the Swindon hospital was not routinely checked during the four years he was there.

A spokesman for Swindon's Princess Margaret Hospital, said better checking procedures were now in place.

Hospital chief executive Sonia Mills said: "We recognise this is unacceptable for patients. We are deeply sorry.

"Out of the 7,000 slides we have examined a very small number have had serious consequences. That is in no way an excuse, but it's a small number.

"There are 215 other patients we've contacted. For them the consequences are less serious, but for them as individuals its extremely worrying and I do recognise that, and as a trust we deeply regret that situation."

Ms Mills said Dr Elwood had come from a reputable agency with references.

Gabriel Scally, regional director of public health, said Dr Elwood had refused to co-operate with hospital authorities when asked to say where he had worked.

"It does raise a number of serious questions about doctors' responsibilities when concerns are raised about their work."

All the patients involved have been contacted but anyone with concerns can contact the patient helpline number on 0800 0284 100.

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See also:

13 Jun 00 | Health
James Elwood: Chronology
13 Jun 00 | Health
Spotting medical mistakes
12 Jun 00 | Health
Surgeon 'mistreated women'
13 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Call for controls on doctors
12 Jun 00 | Health
GMC on the ropes
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