To many patients and junior doctors, James Wisheart was a highly respected and revered figure. The son of a Methodist minister, he was a surgeon of the old school who maintained a certain aloofness on the hospital wards.

He joined Bristol Royal Infirmary as a consultant surgeon in 1975 and in effect ran the children's heart surgery service for 22 years until he was forced into retirement in March 1997.

Only 15 months later the General Medical Council announced that Mr Wisheart was to be struck off the medical register, with the hospital's former chief executive, John Roylance. It was a humiliating end to what should have been an illustrious career for the 62-year-old Ulsterman, who graduated in medicine from Queen's University, Belfast in 1962.

But his record in both adult and children's surgery had been repeatedly questioned. One audit showed that his mortality rate for adults was six times greater than that of his colleagues and another revealed a 60 per cent death rate for hole in the heart operations on children.

For the past two years, Mr Wisheart has been obsessed with trying to clear his name and has spent endless hours at his home in Westbury-on-Trym, near Bristol, scouring the mass of evidence presented to the public inquiry. He has always been resolutely single minded when justifying his stewardship of the care provided at Bristol, where he rose up the ranks to become chairman of the hospital medical committee in 1990 and medical director of the hospital trust in 1992.

With these professional successes came the financial rewards. On top of his £55,705 NHS consultant's salary, Mr Wisheart was awarded a £38,995 annual merit award in recognition of the commitment and expertise he showed in his job.

While Mr Wisheart had a very good bedside manner, and appeared charming, caring and dedicated to patients, there was another side of the man that made him disinclined to listen to his professional colleagues or recognise when things were going wrong.

To critics his manner seemed over-confident and arrogant, an impression that was not helped by the Ulsterman's weakness as a communicator. "He is the opposite of smooth," one former colleague said. "I think he acknowledges that he may have been less than effective at communicating with patients."

Dr Stephen Bolsin, the anaesthetist who blew the whistle on poor standards at Bristol, complained that Mr Wisheart made more than one attempt to silence him and block his complaints.

But finally, with a General Medical Council inquiry pending and repeated evidence that his surgical standards were found wanting, Mr Wisheart stopped operating on children in August 1996.

Earlier this month, Mr Wisheart made his first effort to apologise to parents, telling his local newspaper that he was sorry for the "torment" he had caused families and admitting that in some cases "his best was not good enough". Typically, Mr Wisheart insisted he was not guilty of professional misconduct.

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