Doctors at heart hospital hit back

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THE DEPARTMENT of Health and the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) must take a share of the blame for the Bristol children's heart operations scandal, angry consultants said yesterday.

Six senior consultants at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) signed a statement hitting back at the "indiscriminate blame" levelled at the hospital's doctors over their alleged failure to act.

They were backed by the Bristol Heart Children Action Group, which said there had been a "complete and corporate failure for some considerable length of time".

In yesterday's statement, the consultants said that while the RCS, the Department of Health and senior NHS local managers blamed "doctors in Bristol" for failing to halt the sequence of events, these agencies had failed just as miserably.

"It is not just a failure in regulation at Bristol," said Alan Bryan, cardiac surgeon and one of the six consultants to speak out. "It is a failure of all these people and they need to take responsibility."

The General Medical Council (GMC) inquiry, considered the most important medical disciplinary inquiry of the decade, investigated 53 switch or hole-in-the-heart operations at the BRI between 1988 and 1995. Twenty- nine children died and four were left brain- injured.

Last week, the GMC found surgeons James Wisheart and Janardan Dhasmana, and former chief executive John Roylance, guilty of serious professional misconduct. Mr Wisheart and Mr Roylance were ordered to be struck off. Dr Dhasmana was banned from operating on children for three years.

The six BRI doctors who signed the statement said they were taken aback by the willingness of central agencies to heap "indiscriminate blame" on "doctors in Bristol".

They pointed out that consultant anaesthetist Steve Bolsin and other doctors expressed concerns in the early 1990s. Those approached included the Royal College of Surgeons, the Department of Health, senior surgeons in other cardiac surgical centres and senior NHS management at local level.

"We didn't do enough but neither did these others," Mr Bryan argued. "A number of doctors went through the official channels but nothing was done until Dr Steve Bolsin put his neck on the line."

Mr Bryan pointed out that doctors risked further retribution by giving evidence for the prosecution at the London disciplinary inquiry.

The doctors who signed the statement are Professor Gianni Angelini, the British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiac Surgery; Andy Black, senior lecturer in anaesthesia; Alan Bryan, cardiac surgeon; Ian Davies, anaesthetist; Peter Wilde, radiologist; and Sheila Willatts, anaesthetist in intensive care.

They added that they supported the public inquiry and hoped that thought would be given to how doctors could raise fears through official channels in future.

"The consultants' statement seems to explicitly state the various points we have raised with [Health Secretary] Mr Dobson in our detailed discussions," added Malcolm Curnow, spokesman for the Bristol Heart Children Action Group.

"There are a large number of people within and outside the medical profession who feel that the Royal College of Surgeons, the management and the Department of Health have all been instrumental in this corporate failure," he added.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said yesterday: "They are allegations that will be investigated. The Secretary of State has made it clear there is going to be a public inquiry. He has said we need to learn lessons and we must listen to the concerns of parents."

Avon and Somerset Police has said it is closely studying the findings of the GMC inquiry with the Crown Prosecution Service.

It said it had not received a complaint from a member of the public - a move which routinely could spark off a criminal investigation.