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News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

GMC regrets failure to act on police warning about gynaecologist

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 29 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1035
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. London

    The General Medical Council has admitted that it failed to act after police told it that a gynaecologist practising in Yorkshire had been struck off the medical register while working in Ontario, Canada.

    An independent inquiry into the case of Richard Neale has turned up correspondence between the GMC and North Yorkshire Police about Mr Neale in 1988. However, it was only in 2000 that the GMC found Mr Neale guilty of serious professional misconduct—after he botched surgery, operated without consent, did unnecessary procedures, failed to monitor the condition of patients postoperatively, and duped a patient into paying for a private operation. It then struck Mr Neale's name from the UK medical register (BMJ 2000;321:258).

    Although the letters remain confidential, it is understood that the police drew the GMC's attention to Mr Neale's history in Canada, where he had been found guilty of incompetence and had had his licence to practise revoked. The police, it seems, made it clear that Mr Neale was now working in Britain. The correspondence also seems to show that the GMC made an explicit decision not to act against the gynaecologist.

    The council has already apologised for failing to act on a 1985 letter from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario notifying the council that Mr Neale's licence to practise there had been revoked after the death of a patient.

    Mr Neale, who had emigrated to Canada in 1977, returned to Britain in 1985 and took a post at the Friarage Hospital in North Yorkshire. It was there that most of his botched operations took place.

    The GMC responded to the 1985 warning from Canada by putting Mr Neale's name on a stop list that would raise a red flag if he applied for registration. But, unknown to the GMC, Mr Neale was then already registered and working in Britain.

    A GMC spokesman said: “The relevant GMC files no longer exist, and the reasons for the decision to take no action are not wholly clear. However, there clearly was an opportunity to act in 1988, and we very much regret that the opportunity was not taken.

    “We are glad that the information from the recently discovered police file has enabled us to understand better what may have happened in the 1980s. It is now evident there was an explicit decision to take no action in the UK in relation to the events which led to Richard Neale's loss of licence in Ontario. We wish to stress that we treat information from overseas regulators very seriously today and, with the cooperation of the government, the relevant legislation has been changed to enable us to act on findings in other countries without having to re-prove the allegations afresh.”

    David Hinchliffe, Labour MP for Wakefield, who is chairman of the Commons select committee on health, said he had written to the health secretary, John Reid, asking him to demand an explanation from the GMC.

    Solicitor Ann Alexander, who represents many of the women left with lifelong complications arising from Mr Neale's surgical errors, said: “The news today will intensify debate calling for extensive reform or even the abolition of the GMC. It will add further to the lack of public confidence in their ability to adequately protect patients. To our clients involved in the Shipman and Neale inquiry it is yet another failing amongst many.”

    A Department of Health spokeswoman defended the GMC, saying: “Since December 2002 the GMC has modernised to make it far more responsive to patient needs. The GMC is currently completely overhauling their ‘fitness to practise’ procedures. The [Department of Health] is working closely with the GMC to make this happen.”

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