Doctor faces probe over false abuse diagnosis claims

A leading consultant is facing investigation by the General Medical Council after parents complained that he wrongly diagnosed that their children were the victims of abuse, it emerged today.

Paediatrician Professor David Southall, of North Staffordshire Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent, is one of Britain's leading experts on Munchhausen's Syndrome By Proxy, a condition which apparently drives parents to harm their own children in order to win attention.

The syndrome has been the centre of controversy after a series of court judgments cast doubt on the credibility of the doctor who first identified it, Professor Sir Roy Meadow.

BBC Radio 4's Today programme reported that four women had complained to the GMC that Prof Southall wrongly diagnosed abuse of their children.

They reportedly alleged that medical opinions from other doctors contradicted his findings.

In some cases, children are understood to have been taken into care as a result of Prof Southall's diagnosis.

The allegations are expected to be dealt with in a public hearing at the GMC in June.

A spokeswoman for the GMC said that on 26 February the organisation's preliminary proceedings committee "considered two complaints relating to Professor David Southall".

"After examination of the evidence they have decided not to proceed with one of the complaints. The other complaint was referred to the professional conduct committee."

She added that Prof Southall was due to appear before the PCC some time this summer over a separate matter.

The GMC declined to give details of any of these complaints.

The University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust released a statement in which it pointed out that previous investigations into Prof Southall's work had cleared him of misconduct.

His child protection work was examined by a panel of independent experts, the statement said.

The panel found that, in cases they reviewed, he acted in a way that promoted the best interests of children in his care and took decisions in collaboration with colleagues from other agencies.

It did not find any evidence of inappropriate diagnosis.

A separate inquiry found no evidence of incompetence or serious professional misconduct, the statement said.

Prof Southall has previously sparked controversy over his use of video surveillance of parents to detect child abuse.