The surgeon at the centre of the Bristol babies heart scandal apologised yesterday for the "torment" he had caused families, but insisted he was not guilty of serious professional misconduct.

James Wisheart, 62, who was a senior surgeon and medical director at Bristol Children's Hospital, was struck off by the General Medical Council three years ago after an inquiry into deaths and brain damage among children having complex heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1988 and 1995.

His comments come ahead of the report of a public inquiry into the affair, expected to be published later this month. The two-year inquiry, which heard from hundreds of witnesses and investigated more than 1,800 operations in Bristol over a 12-year period, is the biggest ever undertaken by the NHS.

Mr Wisheart said yesterday: "Looking back, there are many things I wish I had done differently but I do not believe I was guilty of serious professional misconduct.

"The GMC verdict was bad enough, but the sensationalist media portrayal of those events went a long way beyond the facts."

Mr Wisheart was one of three leading doctors found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the GMC in 1998. Dr John Roylance, former chief executive of the United Bristol Healthcare Trust, was also struck off and Janardan Dhasmana, a surgeon, was barred from operating for three years.

The GMC inquiry centred on the deaths of 29 babies operated on by Mr Wisheart and Mr Dhasmana over a seven-year period. It found Mr Wisheart had ignored warnings from colleagues over his high death rates and failed to comply with requests to stop doing the operations.

It also found he misled parents on the risks of the surgery, and wrongly approved a "switch" operation planned by Mr Dhasmana, in spite of being made aware of concerns over its chances of success.

Sir Donald Irvine, president of the GMC, said in ordering Mr Wisheart to be struck off that he accepted the surgeon had no intention other than to act in his patients' best interests.

The scandal came to light after an anaesthetist, Dr Stephen Bolsin, tried and failed to alert hospital authorities to the high proportion of babies dying or suffering irreversible brain damage during surgery. As trust medical director, Mr Wisheart was responsible for handling complaints about clinical performance. Dr Bolsin eventually made his concerns public during a television interview.

At the public inquiry, which finished taking evidence a year ago, it was disclosed that the death rate among children undergoing open heart surgery at Bristol was twice that of other specialist centres and Mr Wisheart was among the worst performers.

Mr Wisheart admitted yesterday he had made mistakes. In an article for the Bristol Evening Post, Mr Wisheart wrote: "I fully accept that not everything I did was successful and some mistakes were made. I wish to express again my sympathy and regrets to the parents and families of children who died.

"Though I did everything in my power to preserve the life and future of children on whom I operated, in these instances my best was not good enough. I am sorry for the torment the families have suffered."

Comments