Trusts slammed over 'epilepsy doctor'

Complaints were first made about a neurologist's work almost three years before he was suspended after wrongly diagnosing more than 600 of his child patients with epilepsy, a report revealed today .

Dr Andrew Holton, who worked as a consultant paediatrician for 11 years at Leicester Royal Infirmary (LRI), had been the subject of a catalogue of concerns about his clinical practice, rude attitude and behaviour towards parents.

"Overall, we have concluded that the response of the respective NHS Trusts could and should have been more decisive at an earlier stage," the report by a Department of Health review panel said.

The two-year inquiry said that the doctor had also prompted widespread fears over his tendency to prescribe children combinations of five high-strength anti-convulsant drugs.

An earlier internal investigation revealed that of 1,948 cases reviewed, Dr Holton had misdiagnosed epilepsy in 618 children and that 500 children were wrongly treated with high doses of drugs, which in some instances they did not need. About 400 families have already launched legal action against the University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) NHS Trust, which could cost the NHS an estimated £10million.

Dr Holton was suspended on full pay in May 2001, but has since left the Trust and is understood to be retraining in another speciality outside Leicestershire.

The independent NHS inquiry team, commissioned by the Regional Director of Public Health (RDPH), said they uncovered evidence of complaints about the consultant's attitude in 1995 and about his clinical practice in 1998.

Dr Holton, the panel were told, had an 'abrupt approach, a tendency to rudeness and an apparently dismissive attitude towards parents and carers'.

In 1998 Dr Alun Elias-Jones, then the hospital's clinical director, had received letters from community paediatricians alarmed Dr Holton's high rate of epilepsy diagnosis and the 'unacceptable levels of clinical risk in children'. "The cluster of correspondence addressed to Dr Elias-Jones in November and December 1998 clearly presented an opportunity to address the issues surrounding Dr Holton," states the report.

The panel said that the possibility of subjecting Dr Holton's work to an external review had been raised in 1999 following those concerns, but that following a meeting with the doctor hospital managers agreed to deal with the matter in-house. "In our view, the decision not to proceed with external review at that stage was a serious error of judgement," said the report.

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