Anger at call to ban heart surgeon

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The Independent Online
THE PRESIDENT of the Royal College of Surgeons yesterday accused Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, of ignoring the principles of justice in demanding tougher penalties for the three doctors at the centre of the Bristol heart surgery disaster.

Sir Rodney Sweetnam said Mr Dobson's comments had been made without "having the benefit of listening to eight months of evidence". His comments put heart surgeon Janardan Dhasmana, 58, who is still permitted to carry out heart surgery on adults, in a "virtually untenable position".

The General Medical Council ruled on Thursday that Mr Dhasmana was guilty of serious professional misconduct and banned him from performing heart surgery on children for three years.

Senior heart surgeon James Wisheart and former chief executive of the United Bristol Healthcare NHS Trust, Dr John Roylance, were also found guilty and struck off the medical register following the inquiry into the deaths of 29 children and babies at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

None of the three doctors was materially affected by the decisions, however.

Speaking hours after the verdict, Mr Dobson said the GMC had made a mistake. On Thursday he told BBC2's Newsnight: "I think under the circumstances and from what I know of the evidence, if they struck off the two doctors they should have struck off all three."

He added that he intended to use whatever powers he had to remove merit awards paid to Mr Wisheart and Dr Roylance. In Mr Wisheart's case, his A merit award was worth almost pounds 40,000 at the time of his retirement earlier this year. Dr Roylance also had an A merit award at the time of his retirement in 1995.

Sir Rodney said yesterday: "I am surprised at Mr Dobson's comments. Before making judgement one needs to know the facts and the evidence which took the GMC eight months to hear. I am surprised anyone would pass judgement without hearing the evidence."

Sir Rodney said he did not believe that the merit awards held by the two retired doctors should be removed.

Parents of children who died at Bristol were bemused by Sir Rodney's remarks. "I am appalled," said Maria Shortis, spokeswoman for the Bristol Heart Children Action Group."You cannot maintain an award given for worldwide contributions to cardiac surgery to one of the most incompetent surgeons in the country. Mr Wisheart is only famous for his disastrous record ... He did not stop when he should have."

Sir Rodney said over four million operations were performed each year and patients could have confidence in their surgeons. "We have to be careful not to extrapolate from the tragic events at Bristol. It was very much a failure of local auditing procedures," he said.

Sir Rodney's remarks ran counter to the GMC's judgement, which listed more than a dozen issues concerning the practice of medicine and surgery that "will have to be addressed by the medical profession". They included the need for clearer standards, better training and improved monitoring of performance.

Mrs Shortis said: "They are desperate to present Bristol as a local problem. Damage limitation is what they are up to."