Far more than two bad apples

The Bristol Baby scandal goes far deeper than we might realise

Share

Three years after the Bristol babies heart surgery disaster started to unfold, shocking facts continue to emerge. The latest expert assessment, released by the public inquiry last Thursday, suggests that 90 dead and damaged babies might have been saved with better care, and that 540 others received care that was "less than adequate" between 1984 and 1995. Now we understand why the paediatric cardiac unit at the Bristol Royal Infirmary was dubbed "the killing fields".

Three years after the Bristol babies heart surgery disaster started to unfold, shocking facts continue to emerge. The latest expert assessment, released by the public inquiry last Thursday, suggests that 90 dead and damaged babies might have been saved with better care, and that 540 others received care that was "less than adequate" between 1984 and 1995. Now we understand why the paediatric cardiac unit at the Bristol Royal Infirmary was dubbed "the killing fields".

But while we know, broadly, what happened in Bristol, the mystery is how it happened - how a hospital committed to saving babies ended up burying them. And went on burying them, year after heart- breaking year.

Tonight Channel 4 broadcasts a two-hour "factual drama" that attempts to get at the truth of the catastrophe. Based on the public inquiry evidence, it is meticulously faithful to the events it reconstructs.

The outline facts are well known. Through the 1980s and early 1990s, the surgeons James Wisheart and Janardan Dhasmana continued to perform heart surgery on new-born babies and infants despite repeated warnings about poor survival rates. Along with the hospital's chief executive, John Roylance, they were later found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council.

Given the subject, it would have been easy for the directro, Peter Kosminsky, to produce a Hollywood-style tear- jerker. But the film tries to capture the complexity of both personalities and events. For if there is one thing the Bristol disaster is not about it's two bad surgeons turning a hospital rotten. That would make it easy to dismiss as a "local failure", the words used by the former president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Sir Rodney Sweetnam, the day after the GMC verdict was handed down in June 1998.

The surgeons, Wisheart and Dhasmana, are the only names associated with the scandal but they were far from being the only ones responsible for it. The film lays bare the "institutional arrogance", highlighted by the public inquiry's interim report into the organ retention scandal, that lay behind the surgeons' failure.

As the death toll mounts, we see the bickering and petty rivalry among the consultants - anaesthetists and cardiologists, as well as the surgeons - and a loss of confidence among the nurses. Above all, there is a fatal complicity by all involved to "keep the train moving" even though passengers were falling off, as the whistleblower, the consultant anaesthetist Stephen Bolsin, later put it to the public inquiry.

The film, which focuses on four families, closes with a list of 174 children who died after heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, some of whom would have survived with better treatment.

It is the final throat-tightening moment. One of the strongest complaints of the Bristol parents is that the GMC case focused on only 29 babies who died or were brain-damaged. Naming others who lost their lives was important to the parents. This film properly honours their memory.

* 'Innocents' is shown tonight at 9pm on Channel 4. Jeremy Laurence is health editor.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Would you fork out to spend time on Sting's Tuscan estate?  

Happy to pay for the privilege of picking olives? Then Sting might have a job for you...

John Walsh
Clockwise from top: Zafran Ramzan, Razwan Razaq (main picture), Adil Hussain, Umar Razaq and Mohsin Khan were sentenced for grooming teenage girls for sex in 2010.  

Nothing can make up for the trauma of Rotherham's abused young girls, but many more heads must roll

Jane Merrick
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?