A SURGEON who received death threats from an abusive patient has spoken of his anger at learning the case against the man has been dropped.

Gordon Shepard, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Royal Bolton Hospital, was treating the patient in the fracture clinic when he was threatened.

The man said he would go home, get a knife and return to stab the doctor.

Mr Shepard reported the matter to police, but officers failed to charge the man within the six-month time limit set out by law for the offence.

It meant the abusive patient was never brought to justice.

Mr Shepard said yesterday: "I feel let down by the system. We are here to help, not to be abused."

The aggressive patient made the death threat on June 29 last year after Mr Shepard had treated him.

The threats came just two days after the Government reiterated its zero tolerance policy on attacks on medical staff.

Police were informed but did not arrest the man, aged 30, from Daubhill, until November 15.

They questioned him and sent details to the Crown Prosecution Service, which authorised a charge of using abusive or insulting words or behaviour on December 11.

The accused was due to answer bail on December 13, when he would have been charged.

But he failed to turn up and was only formally charged on February 12 after a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

The case was due to be heard at Bolton magistrates' Court on Monday last week, but it emerged that it had run out of time.

Using abusive or insulting words or behaviour is a summary offence, a crime that can only be heard at a magistrates' court.

A person accused of a summary offence must be charged within six months of the date when the alleged incident happened.

Mr Shepard said: "This patient abused myself and several other members of staff and he made repeated death threats against me.

"In line with the recently-announced zero tolerance' campaign, he was reported to the police and a case was brought against the patient.

"The patient effectively avoided prosecution because he successfully avoided the police to slow down the case.

"Announcements from the Government make good soundbites, but actions speak louder than words."

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: "The matter first came to the attention of the CPS on December 11 when, following the defendant's interview, CPS lawyers reviewed the case and authorised a charge of abusive or insulting words or behaviour.

"Thereafter, the police were unable to trace the defendant and he was not formally charged until 12 February, 2008.

"This meant that the case was beyond the six-month time limit. When the CPS became aware of the delay, we had no alternative but to cease proceedings.

"The defendant has failed to attend in the proceedings on a number of occasions and the defendant still remains outstanding in relation to his further non attendance at court on April 14, when a warrant for his arrest was once again issued."

A police spokesman said: "When the defendant failed to answer bail on December 13, his details were circulated to all police stations as wanted and he was brought in on February 12 and charged."

Heather Edwards, head of communications at the Royal Bolton Hospital, said: "We're very disappointed that this case didn't go ahead.

"This hospital trust is determined to protect our staff and it's important that people understand that any allegation of threatened or actual violence will be regarded as very serious."