Great Ormond Street doctors call for inquiry into 'cover-up'

Senior doctors from Britain's leading children's hospital will today call for independent investigators to be brought in amid mounting accusations of management cover-ups, bullying and falling standards.

Paediatricians from Great Ormond Street Hospital want the Government to order an investigation into allegations that senior managers withheld critical information about the hospital's role in the events leading to the death of Baby Peter Connolly.

In an extraordinary letter today in the medical journal The Lancet, an undisclosed number of Great Ormond Street consultants express "alarm" at the way senior managers have treated clinicians who raise patient safety concerns. The consultants demand "strong ministerial intervention to order an investigations into these matters, including the treatment of whistleblowers".

Pressure has been mounting on the Government to act after the Lib Dem minister and Haringey MP Lynn Featherstone called for the Trust's chief executive, Dr Jane Collins, to resign, accusing her of "covering-up" vital information about the safety of the clinic from which Peter was sent home two days before he died in August 2007.

Ms Featherstone wrote to the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, last month demanding an inquiry into Great Ormond Street (GOSH) management after discovering that the most critical sections of the report into the children's clinic GOSH ran in Haringey, were not provided to investigators in the two serious case reviews that followed Peter's death.

Tension between GOSH staff and management has been building since Ms Featherstone exposed the full report, which accepted that doctors were working in a "clinically risky situation" due to staff shortages and poor training, and that the locum doctor, Sabah al-Zayyat, who missed serious injuries on Peter, was inexperienced and should never have been hired.

Mr Lansley last night told The Independent that he would "look into the issues raised" and respond to Ms Featherstone and The Lancet shortly.

Dr Kim Holt, a consultant paediatrician, repeatedly raised safety concerns with GOSH managers after she was employed at the Haringey clinic in 2004. Dr Holt, and thousands of her supporters, maintain that she has remained on “special leave” since late 2007 as punishment for whistleblowing.

An accompanying article by the journal's editor, Richard Horton, details discontent from some senior medical staff about poor leadership, inadequate diagnostic services and a "singular lack of foresight" in planning services by management. Mr Horton believes the only thing protecting GOSH managers is the institution's international reputation.

The belated spotlight on the role health services played in Baby Peter's death has been welcomed by social workers, who were vilified after Peter's death. The first serious case review, chaired by former head of children services at Haringey, Sharon Shoesmith, identified chronic concerns about children's health services in Haringey. The second serious case review, ordered by then children's minister, Ed Ball, after he publicly sacked Ms Shoesmith, virtually ignored the role of the NHS in Peter's death even though 38 out of his 60 contacts had been with health rather than social services.

The contentious report was passed to the Strategic Health Authority, NHS London, in November 2008, but it was destroyed after three days due to "ongoing legal and conduct proceedings", according to a recent freedom of information request by Dr Holt. It is unclear what action, if any, the SHA took after receiving the report, or if any other officials had read it until last month's expose.

A GOSH spokesperson said: "There has been no evidence that anyone has been targeted for raising concerns at the Trust… All members of the Board have personally reviewed the documentation about Baby Peter's death and it is clear that the Trust has never sought to mislead any inquiry into the death of a child. The Board fully supports the management team."

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