Parents were not told of heart surgery's high risk

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The General Medical Council inquiry into the conduct of two paediatric heart surgeons yesterday heard for the first time from parents of babies who died during or after operations. Kathy Marks describes a day of emotional evidence.

The parents of nine-month-old Hanna Silcox, born with a hole in her heart, were told by James Wisheart that she had an 80 per cent chance of surviving surgery. She died on his operating table. Afterwards, he allegedly said it had been "one of the best jobs I have ever done".

Hanna's mother, Lisa Silcox, 27, of Brixham, Devon, told the GMC's professional conduct committee that she and her husband, Andrew, had assumed that they were "the unlucky one in five".

But the disciplinary hearing, regarded as the most important medical inquiry of the decade, has been told that by the time of the operation in August 1994, eight of Mr Wisheart's 14 infant patients had already died during or after similar surgery.

Mr Wisheart, together with his fellow surgeon, Janardan Dhasmana, and Dr John Roylance, former chief executive of the Bristol United Healthcare NHS Trust, all deny charges of serious professional misconduct. The charges relate to two types of complex surgery to correct congenital heart defects performed on babies at Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1988 and 1995.

Mrs Silcox told the hearing that after Hanna's operation she and her husband wrote to Mr Wisheart, who has since retired, to thank him for his work. He wrote back to say how sorry he was about her death.

Had she known about the surgeon's track record, Mrs Silcox said, she would have approached a different hospital. "If they had said the risk was as high, I would not have gone ahead with the surgery," she said.

Sandy Rundle, whose 10-month-old son, Matthew, died after a similar operation performed by Mr Wisheart in July 1994, said that he had told her that the chances of survival were 90 per cent. Mrs Rundle, 31, of Tintagel, Cornwall, said: "Mr Wisheart drew a diagram of the operation and said it needed to be done sooner rather than later. He said it was a straightforward procedure. I thought if Matthew had the operation, everything would be OK."

After the surgery, Mrs Rundle said, Mr Wisheart said it had gone "relatively well". However, Matthew, who also had Down's syndrome, died 10 days later.

The GMC committee is to hear evidence about operations on 53 babies, of whom 29 died and four suffered serious brain damage.