I congratulate the Deputy on her promotion. This matter was raised by the Deputy's predecessor – I commiserate with her on her demotion – on 15 December last when the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, answered a question on the Adjournment outlining this issue. As has been stated in my reply, it is not a question of being leisurely but of due process taking its course.
The question relates to a consultant obstetrician. On 22 October last, the employees of a hospital alleged to the legal adviser of the health board concerned that there was an abnormally high caesarean hysterectomy rate. This procedure is only carried out in urgent medical circumstances and is avoided as much as possible since it precludes any further pregnancies. On being informed of the complaint, the health board concerned immediately set about dealing with it. It carried out a preliminary assessment over the weekend of 23-26 October. It met with the consultant on 27 October. He consented at that meeting to submit his practice to peer review conducted by personnel from outside of the board's area. It was subsequently claimed that the complaints against him were groundless. The chief executive officer was presented with reports from three obstetricians acting on behalf of the consultant concerned indicating that his management of a number of cases selected by that consultant were without fault and acceptable. The board referred the cases to a UK consultant obstetrician gynaecologist contacted via a reputable health care risk agency. There was a failure by the consultant to agree initially to the board's proposed approach to reviewing his case by an expert group nominated by the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists but he subsequently agreed to the terms of reference of this group through his legal advisers on 23 November last. The board received a report from the UK consultant obstetrician gynaecologist on 8 December and, based on that report and a separate complaint received from a patient on the same date, the chief executive officer invoked Appendix 4 of the consultant's contract and instructed the consultant to take immediate administrative leave from 11 December.
As has been said, the board set up a helpline on 16 December to provide advice and assistance to patients and families with any concerns regarding the treatment received. The helpline has been manned by a medical social worker, an assistant director of nursing and a complaints officer. It received a total of 173 calls between 16 December and 21 January. Each call was followed up with advice, support and necessary counselling. The board has a psychologist available in that regard.
In relation to the question of clinical audit, while it is not directly connected to this case the use of clinical audit would clearly help to identify quickly apparently abnormal practice patterns. I agree with the Deputy that it should form part of our system and that is the reason we are introducing it. In recent weeks further complaints have been received from patients and copies of those complaints have been forwarded to the group nominated by the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The due process is taking its course and I assure the Deputy this matter is being dealt with in a serious way. Far from a leisurely approach being adopted, the facts confirm that upon immediate notification prudent steps were taken by the board to ensure the matter was dealt with appropriately and in a way that will not be open to legal challenge.