THE long-awaited inquiry into the Richard Neale scandal will get under way next month, it was revealed last night.

While an exact date has not been given, officials say the inquiry into how the NHS handled complaints against the disgraced Northallerton surgeon is due to start in early May.

The behind-closed-doors hearing will take place at the Hilton Hotel in York. Officials expect it to take at least two months.

The inquiry aims to discover how the gynaecologist was able to botch operations for more than ten years without being found out. It is going ahead despite a boycott by many of Mr Neale's former patients who would prefer a full public inquiry.

Colin Phillips, secretary to the inquiry, said: "The more patients who come forward the better - and more patients have come forward. We know it is painful but if they tell us what happened we may be able to stop it happening again."

Even when the surgeon left the Friarage Hospital in 1995, Mr Neale was able to carry on working in the NHS, until a determined group of former patients persuaded the authorities to act.

The inquiry hopes that lessons may be learned from the Neale affair which could benefit the NHS.

But many of Mr Neale's former patients have refused to co-operate after their bid to force the Government to hold a full public inquiry was thrown out by the courts.

The leaders of a group which represents most of the patients do not believe the hearing will tackle the real issues of NHS accountability and alleged lack of action by the authorities.

Patients' group spokeswoman Irene Stewart said: "I don't think it is in our best interests to attend this inquiry but it is up to individuals to decide for themselves."

Mr Neale was struck off in 2000 after the General Medical Council found him guilty of 34 out of 35 allegations of professional misconduct.

The allegations against him included operating without consent, incompetence, lying to patients and falsifying records.

The inquiry helpline can be contacted on 0207 972 2400.

Read more about the Richard Neale scandal here.