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The BBC's Michael Voss "...it was appalling."
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The BBC's Denise Mahoney
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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 16:27 GMT
Doctors malpractice
Mr Smith going to hospital in a brand new ambulance
Nursing staff
Retired doctors will no longer be able to escape investigation for malpractice following a new law which comes into force today.

Until now, only practising NHS doctors could be probed following allegations of incompetence or wrong doing.

But health campaigners were today celebrating as new rules giving the NHS Health Ombudsman extra powers were given Royal Assent.

The Health Service Commissioners (Amendment) Act 2000 closes a loophole which previously allowed NHS general practitioners to avoid investigation by the Ombudsman by retiring.

They were then free to work as locums or privately with health service investigators unable to take any further action against them. Today's Act follows more than three years of campaigning by the Consumers' Association.

Case Study

Mr Smith's serious illness meant staff were constantly at his bedside
Nursing staff's concern
The Association pushed for a change in the law after first highlighting the plight of Peter Smith, from Essex, in its monthly Which? publication. Mr Smith's wife, Dorothy, a retired head teacher, died of leukaemia in 1997 after allegedly being mis-diagnosed by her GP.


I was misdiagnosed by my GP

Dorothy Smith

But after contacting his local authority to complain, Mr Smith was told that an investigation into the doctor's practices could not continue as he had since retired.

New Law

His case prompted the Association to draft a blueprint for the new law which was then introduced as a Private Members Bill by Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, MP for Wealden.

The new law will only cover complaints made from today with the most serious cases eventually being referred to the General Medical Council. The Council will then have the power to strike doctors off its register if deemed necessary, although it does still not have the power to stop disgraced GPs practising privately.

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