Restoring public confidence

Click to follow
The Independent Online

This tribunal is undoubtedly new territory for the GMC. It normally holds tribunals to judge cases of incompetence or abuse by its doctors. But there is no suggestion that Sir Roy has been remiss in the care of his patients. What he is accused of is acting improperly in a court of law in his role as expert witness. It is alleged that Sir Roy misused statistics in the 1999 murder trial of Sally Clark to advance his own "pet theory" of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, which holds that mothers sometimes induce real or apparent symptoms of a disease in their children.

According to The Lancet this is a legal, not a medical case. It argues that the miscarriages of justice that resulted from Sir Roy's evidence throw into doubt the functioning of the legal system itself. What is more, it claims the "scapegoating" of Sir Roy could end up harming children. Which doctors will be willing to do child protection or expert witness work after this? There is also a question of what the implications will be for medical professionals who hold controversial and sensitive theories. Will the experience of Sir Roy deter them from coming forward?

In spite of this, The Lancet is wrong to argue that the GMC should not have begun this tribunal. The wrongful convictions of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings, Donna Anthony and Trupti Patel provoked deep public concern. A GMC tribunal is part of the process of restoring public confidence in the medical profession.

Questions need to be addressed about our legal system - not least how it allowed one doctor's opinion to carry such weight. And it is also important not to prejudge the outcome of this hearing. But the GMC is justified in asking if Sir Roy Meadow is fit to be a doctor.