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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 13:52 GMT
Heart surgery deaths made public
lists of names
Dozens of children received "substandard care"
The death rates of individual cardiac surgeons are to be made public, Health Secretary Alan Milburn has announced.

The measure is part of the government's response to the report into the deaths of children undergoing heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

A service that is designed around the needs of patients has to give more power to patients

Alan Milburn
Ministers plan to give patients and their carers more say on how the health service is run.

Mr Milburn said the package was designed to create a "different relationship between patients and services".

He told the House of Commons: "The days have gone when part of the NHS can behave as though they were part of a secret society.

"A service that is designed around the needs of patients has to give more power to patients."

Doctors have welcomed the plans, but warned that unfairly labelling surgeons as poor performers could damage patient care.

More data

Information on the number of patients who die in the 30 days following surgery will be made available for every cardiac surgeon in England by April 2004.

Mr Milburn said it was planned to extend publication of death rates to other specialties. However, he said steps would be taken to ensure the published data did not give an unfair impression of the skills of each surgeon.

He said: "I believe open publication will not just make sure we have a more open health service, but it will help to raise standards in all parts of the NHS."

Public involvement

From April 2003, a National Knowledge Service for the NHS will work to provide high quality information about the health service for patients.

A Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health is to be established to encourage more people to take an active role in the health service.

No-one can guarantee that mistakes will not occur, medicine is not a perfect science

Alan Milburn
A Citizen's Council will also be set up to advise a beefed up National Institute of Clinical Excellence, which will be given new powers to set standards for day to day clinical practice in the NHS.

New guidelines about sharing information with patients and parents of young children are to be issued this summer.

The system for compensating victims of medical negligence is to be reformed.

And the NHS complaints system will be revamped by the end of the year.


The Commission for Health Improvement will also be given strengthened role to ensure high standards. It will include a new Office for Information of Health Care Performance to monitor clinical performance and to publish regular performance indicators on all NHS trusts.

The work of all the regulatory bodies in the NHS will be overseen by a new Council for the Quality of Health Care.

And a new Council for the Regulation of Health Care Professionals will be established to strengthen and co-ordinate the system of professional self-regulation for doctors.

Government proposals for reform of the General Medical Council will be published in the spring.

It is also planned to have a national system for reporting problems in the NHS - including a confidential telephone help line - by the end of the year.

Plans for doctors to regularly prove their fitness to practise are to be extended to all health workers.

Mr Milburn said: "No-one can guarantee that mistakes will not occur, medicine is not a perfect science, even the best doctors make the worst mistakes.

"Our task is not to pretend we can eradicate every error. Our job is to ensure that there are systems in place to detect errors, to minimise them and to learn from them."

Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox welcomed the government's proposals saying improvements to care standards were a "tribute" to those who had suffered at Bristol.

However, Liberal Democrat health spokesman Dr Evan Harris said ministers seemed intent on shifting the blame for NHS failings on to the medical profession.

Inquiry findings

Last year's inquiry report concluded that between 30 and 35 children who underwent heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1991 and 1995 died unnecessarily, as a result of sub-standard care.

Approximately one third of all children who underwent open-heart surgery received less than adequate care, said the report.

Children "died unnecessarily" at the hospital

The paediatric cardiac team was led at the time by surgeon Mr James Wisheart, who operated alongside his colleague Janardan Dhasmana.

Wisheart was struck off in 1998 by the General Medical Council, and Dhasmana was banned from paediatric surgery for three years. He has not operated since.

Dr John Roylance, the hospital's chief executive, was also found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the GMC and struck off.

The inquiry, chaired by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, said there had been a "club culture" among the doctors at the hospital, and that professional rivalries and paternalistic attitudes had flourished.

It refused to entirely blame individual doctors for the crisis, saying that "general failings" in the NHS of the time were as much to blame.

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Few doubt that more changes will be needed"
Head of United Bristol Healthcare Trust Hugh Ross
"The health service has been changing fast"
Michaela Willis, victim of heart scandal
"We found out that we were mislead"
Sue Williams, National Patient Safety Agency
"We've had about 1000 reports in to date"

Government response

Key stories

Key figures

Parents' stories

Background briefing


Bristol year by year
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