Surgeon's private firm is paid £630,000... to treat patients from his own NHS waiting list

Conflict-of-interest row: Enda McVeigh received more than £600,000 from the NHS hospital where he works as a surgeon

Conflict-of-interest row: Surgeon Enda McVeigh received more than £600,000 from the NHS hospital he is employed by

One of the country’s top fertility experts is embroiled in a conflict-of-interest row after a company he owns was paid to treat a backlog of patients – from his own NHS waiting lists.

The Oxford Fertility Unit (OFU), where leading gynaecologist and Government adviser Enda McVeigh is a director, received more than £600,000 from the NHS hospital where he works as a surgeon.

The money was used to arrange operations for nearly 400 people. The patients were all due to have procedures such as hysterectomies and cyst removals at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford by NHS doctors and some were due to be treated by Mr McVeigh.

But because they had been waiting so long for surgery, the hospital asked the company to arrange the procedures privately to prevent the patients waiting longer than the Government’s standard 18-week limit.

The OFU, which normally treats IVF patients, was paid £629,030 to organise the procedures. The money was used to pay for a team of 25 obstetricians and anaesthetists to carry out the operations in their free time.

It means the group of doctors were paid thousands of pounds by the taxpayer, in some cases to treat their own patients.

The operations were carried out on NHS premises at the John Radcliffe site over an eight-week period last November and December. A total of 398 patients received their surgery under the arrangement.

The work was not put out to public tender after hospital chiefs decided it would be better for the patients to be treated by the surgeons they had already seen.

One leading hospital consultant, who did not want to be named, said: ‘This is a huge conflict of interest. The hospital would have been better off paying more for the work to be done elsewhere to avoid what is a real moral hazard.

‘It’s fine to operate a private taxi service rather than drive a corporation bus, but you shouldn’t be driving the taxi when you should be driving the corporation bus.’

Mr McVeigh, 46, is an internationally-renowned specialist in reproductive medicine. He lives with his family in a £2million Grade II listed house.

He has been both a director and company secretary of the OFU since April 2005. The only other director is his medical colleague Timothy Child, also an obstetrics and gynaecology consultant at the John Radcliffe.

Mr Child also carried out some of the operations under the arrangement.

Mr Child said: ‘The OFU co-ordinated those surgeons to undertake those cases in their own time.

‘Mr McVeigh and myself have not received any personal income from this and any money that came into the OFU has been used to pay for research.’

The OFU is one of the country’s top fertility centres which works in partnership with the NHS and Oxford University. It treats both NHS and private IVF patients. The consultants who work there have their salaries paid by the university but carry out clinical work at the John Radcliffe.

The latest accounts for the year ending March 2009 show the OFU is renting a new property at an annual cost of nearly £500,000.

The accounts reveal assets of £86,000 and that Mr McVeigh was loaned £508,000 by the company during the year, the reason for which is not disclosed. The OFU recently spent £2.7 million refurbishing its new base.

It is common for the NHS to use private hospitals to help ease waiting lists but hospitals have also recently begun using their own consultants to clear backlogs and paying them to do so.

NHS consultants can earn tens of thousands of pounds a year by volunteering for such initiatives, but there are claims that this makes it lucrative for them to maintain large waiting lists to pocket additional payments.

A spokeswoman for the John Radcliffe said the OFU had not profited from the arrangement.

She said the trust had paid the standard NHS tariff for the operations, which range from £300 to £1,700 depending on the procedure. It is not known how much each consultant received for the work.

‘The trust experienced a higher demand from NHS patients for gynaecology procedures than it had expected during the year and had to seek additional capacity to ensure that patients requiring non-urgent surgery were treated in line with NHS waiting time standards,’ said the spokeswoman.

‘We approached a number of other centres to help us speed up treatment but alternative capacity was an issue.

‘Ultimately it was considered it would be better for patients if they were treated by clinicians by whom they had already been assessed. This work was thus undertaken as part of an additional waiting list initiative.’

When The Mail on Sunday contacted Mr McVeigh’s home, his wife said: ‘I can’t comment. You need to talk to my husband. He’s at a medical conference abroad and he’s back at work on Monday.’

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