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Friday, June 19, 1998 Published at 06:42 GMT 07:42 UK

Special Report

Dobson: GMC should have struck off third doctor

Frank Dobson plans to reclaim merit payments made to the doctors

The health secretary says the General Medical Council made a mistake by allowing one of the surgeons in the Bristol babies scandal to continue operating on adults.

In addition, Frank Dobson told the BBC he would use his power to remove merit payments of up to £50,000 made to the other two doctors in the case.

Merit payments are appointed by the central Advisory Committee on Distinction Awards for 'outstanding work of wider benefit to the NHS'. The committee acts on behalf of the Health Secretary. Around 12% of practising consultants hold a merit award.

Frank Dobson: "If they struck off two of the doctors, they should have struck off all three."
Speaking on the BBC's Newsnight programme, Mr Dobson said he believed he had the authority to demand the bonuses were repaid.

He added: "I believe I could take them away if they were still at work, so I don't see why I can't take them away now.

[ image: Dobson: says the GMC got it wrong on the third doctor]
Dobson: says the GMC got it wrong on the third doctor
"What is shocking is that the system of merit payments led to them getting merit payments, while other people in the profession and within National Health Service management knew about the inadequacies and the awful things that were happening in Bristol."

Mr Dobson immediately announced a public inquiry after the GMC ruled on Thursday that James Wisheart, and John Roylance should be struck off - banning them from practising medicine.

On Newsnight, he made it clear he was far from satisfied by the outcome of the council's investigation.

[ image: Angry parents had to be restrained after the GMC announced its verdict]
Angry parents had to be restrained after the GMC announced its verdict
Asked by presenter Jeremy Paxman whether he would allow the third doctor - Janardhan Dhasmana - to operate on him, Mr Dobson replied: "No."

He was then asked if it followed from his answer that he thought the GMC had made a mistake. "Yes," Mr Dobson said.

He added: "From what I know of the evidence, if they struck off two of the doctors, they should have struck off all three."

'Cardiologists reluctant to refer to Bristol'

After the longest hearing of its kind, many questions still remain about how the three doctors were able to continue operating despite their unusually high failure rate.

Matthew Hill's exclusive report
The BBC's Health Correspondent in the west of England, Matthew Hill, has uncovered new evidence about ignored warnings that could have saved lives.

[ image: Matthew Hill: discovered new evidence]
Matthew Hill: discovered new evidence
Catherine Hawkins, who was chief executive of the regional health authority responsible for Bristol Infirmary from 1984 to 1992, revealed she had serious misgivings about the success rate of some doctors performing adult surgery 10 years ago.

She wrote to Newsnight, stating: "... at many of our District Health Authority reviews we found a reluctance to encourage referral by their cardiologists to the Bristol Royal Infirmary ... because of, and I quote, 'unsatisfactory outcomes'."

She added that she had "considerable concerns" about pressure from the Department of Health and local authorities to expand cardiac treatment at the hospital.

She claimed: "... the civil servants were hell bent on the numbers game - they weren't bothered about the outcome of the operations ... they just wanted to be able to quote a big increase in the number of operations being undertaken."

Whistleblower: 'Conspiracy and cover-up'

The doctor who first drew attention to the high death rates among children undergoing heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary also attacked the "despicable" delay in dealing with the scandal.

[ image: Campaigners say other children were left brain-damaged because of the doctors' incompetence]
Campaigners say other children were left brain-damaged because of the doctors' incompetence
Anaesthetist Steve Bolsin, now director of an Australian cardiac surgery, said: "As time went on it became more and more apparent what was actually going on was a conspiracy and cover-up to try to prevent the bad results from coming to light.

"One of the despicable components of the whole affair was what allowed them to carry on.

"I think that had we taken some kind of survey or review or looked at the results in more detail and done something with that information, then an awful lot of children wouldn't have lost their lives."

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