Bristol chief: doctors often exaggerated claims

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER chief executive of the hospital at the centre of the Bristol baby deaths yesterday told the public inquiry into the disaster that he dismissed warnings about the high death rate because he believed they were exaggerated.

Dr John Roylance, head of the United Bristol Healthcare NHS Trust until 1995, said some doctors at the Bristol Royal Infirmary used emotive claims to back their demands for extra resources and he didn't know who to believe.

He told the public inquiry: "I was accustomed to this sort of exaggerated statement to support the improvements that individuals wanted."

He added: "The difficulty I had was finding a way of putting into priority the requests that were made ... issues were put to management in emotive terms."

Dr Roylance was struck off the medical register last year following the General Medical Council's investigation which focused on 53 cases of babies undergoing complex heart surgery, of whom 29 died or were brain damaged. The GMC found him guilty of serious professional misconduct for failing to act sooner on the warnings about the high death rate and to stop the two surgeons, James Wisheart and Janardan Dhasmana, who were found guilty with him, from continuing to operate.

Yesterday, Dr Roylance was given his first chance to tell his side of the story to the four- member inquiry panel. He appeared before the inquiry earlier in the year but his evidence was limited to the hospital's management procedure.

Dr Roylance was questioned extensively about a series of documents suggesting high death rates among babies undergoing complex heart surgery at the hospital. He repeatedly denied he had any knowledge of problems until January 1995.

Asked by inquiry counsel Brian Langstaff QC if he would have acted to resolve the situation had he known, he replied: "Absolutely. I would have activated the proper professional pathways to deal with the situation. I wish now I'd known because I might have taken the opportunity to ask pertinent questions."

Dr Roylance said he had seen a letter from whistle blower, consultant anaesthetist Stephen Bolsin, written in July 1990 which detailed "the unfortunate position of mortality rates for open heart surgery in patients under one year old". It added: "This as you may not know is one of the highest in the country and the problem should be addressed."

It was that letter which Dr Roylance said he thought was exaggerated. Last month, the inquiry heard claims by Dr Bolsin that managers and doctors at the infirmary ignored his warnings about the high death rate because they were anxious to maintain the hospital's designation as one of 12 specialist units for children's heart surgery in the country.

The panel also heard that by 1992 the satirical magazine Private Eye was describing the paediatric cardiac unit as "the killing fields".

The inquiry is investigating the treatment and care of babies undergoing complex open heart surgery at the hospital in the 12 years to 1995. Hearings began in March with nearly 1,900 cases to be considered.

The inquiry continues.

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