A regional review of cardiac services at Oxford Radcliffe Hospital trust is under way after an internal inquiry cleared a cardiac surgeon of allegations about his drinking and patient care.

Consultant cardiothoracic surgeon Ravi Pillai was suspended in December after five claims were made by Colette O' Keefe, senior nurse manager of the cardiothoracic unit.

A preliminary investigation cleared Mr Pillai of three of the allegations - including those criticising his drinking and patient care - and he returned to work in February 'without any restriction in his clinical practice'. Ms O'Keefe has been on sick leave since the issue arose.

But in an internal memorandum seen by HSJ , director of personnel and administration Mike Fleming said 'the investigation also concluded that two of the allegations may have substance'.

These are understood to concern relations between Mr Pillai and staff at the unit.

Mr Fleming said continuing inquiries would be conducted by two external, independent Joint Consultants Committee assessors.

South East regional office's review of the trust's cardiac services follows 'concerns, including those raised by staff, about managerial and clinical relationships within the Oxford Heart Centre over a period of time'.

The review, due this summer, will also 'assess the way in which the trust responds to concerns of senior nursing and other staff in cardiac services'. It will consider concerns raised by individual staff members, but 'will not investigate individual patient complaints.'

Ms O' Keefe's allegations are backed by the Royal College of Nursing, which said it was 'representing a number of nurses who have been raising concerns, some of which are about the standards of patient care'. It could not give details because of the 'closed and confidential nature' of the internal proceedings.

In 1998, the hospital - at which Mr Pillai has practised for 10 years - lost its accreditation for training in cardiac surgery. A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Surgeons said this was because it did not have enough consultants to 'train (junior doctors) given the number of procedures carried out by the unit'.

Regional office said the internal inquiry was 'just one of a number of reasons' behind its review.