Whistleblower's tears for heart-op victims

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The Independent Online

Whistleblower Dr Stephen Bolsin broke down today as he paid an emotional tribute to children who died in the heart surgery unit of the shamed Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Whistleblower Dr Stephen Bolsin broke down today as he paid an emotional tribute to children who died in the heart surgery unit of the shamed Bristol Royal Infirmary.

He choked back tears as he made a short personal tribute at the end of his first morning of evidence before the multi-million pound public inquiry sitting in Bristol.

He paused for a few moments in making his statement but refused a suggestion by the senior inquiry counsel Mr Brian Langstaff QC, that he take a short break from the witness box where he is expected to spend the next four days giving evidence.

He was watched closely from the crowded public gallery containing a number of parents who lost children in the 12 years before 1995 which are being reviewed by the inquiry.

And his wife Margaret and his own son and daughter also listened intently as the tall, dark-haired doctor said: "We shall be talking about mortality rates and the number of excessive deaths.

"I wanted to say that I sympathise enormously with the parents who have been through the situation of children undergoing open-heart surgery, complex paediatric cardiac surgery, and for those parents whose children did not survive.

"I wanted to let them know that for me they were all individual children who had families."

The consultant anaesthetist fought back tears as, head bowed, he composed himself and added: "I am very sorry for what happened to them."

Earlier he claimed that the heart surgery unit patients at risk to maintain Government funding.

Dr Bolsin, who is generally credited with exposing the Bristol heart baby scandal, said he felt that staff wanted to maintain the hospital unit's designation as a specialist heart facility.

It was a main reason, he submitted, behind his inability to get action from hospital bosses over his concerns about the high mortality rate among babies undergoing complex heart surgery.

He recalled a conversation with the Director of Anaesthesia, Chris Monk, where they were considering whether the unit could be stopped from undertaking some high risk operations.

They wanted a review, he said.

"The analogy that was used was of a train where occasional passengers were falling off, and the train had to keep moving in order to attract funding.

"That was one of my concerns about the subjugation of patient safety by reasons of funding and continued activity in high risk areas.

"My impression of this unit was that the commitment of staff was to keep doing the things they felt were important to designation, irrespective of risk to patients."

Mr Bolsin, who is now Director of Anaesthesia at Geelong Hospital, near Melbourne, Victoria, flew in from Australia this weekend to give evidence at the hearing.

It follows a General Medical Council inquiry which was sparked off by allegations made by Mr Bolsin over the high death rate in the baby surgical duty.

The disciplinary inquiry brought in findings of serious professional misconduct against BRI surgeons James Wisheart and Janardan Dhasmana and former chief executive Dr John Roylance.

The GMC hearing had investigated 53 operations carried out by the two surgeons after which 29 patients died and four were left brain injured.

The public inquiry is investigating around 2,000 operations on babies at the hospital.

Dr Bolsin is expected to be quizzed over his claims that he was repeatedly rebuffed by hospital bosses when he tried to raise his concerns. As a result he went outside the hospital in a bid to expose the death rates which he calculated for some operations to be double the national average.

The consultant has claimed that he was shunned by the medical establishment in making his exposures, and that this forced him to seek a job outside Britain.