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Bristol: Reputation restored
Bristol Royal Infirmary
Bristol is recovering from the Bristol scandal
At the time that the Bristol heart babies affair exploded, it seemed ridiculous to suggest that the unit at the centre of the allegations could ever recover its tattered reputation.

Handing over your child for a life or death operation is one of the hardest things a parent ever has to do - how could anyone trust Bristol again?

However, while figures in the mid-1990s suggested that Bristol was among the worst paediatric cardiac centres in the UK, now it ranks among the best.

Although the plummet in death rates has been a team effort, the change in fortunes coincided with the appointment of a new surgeon as the scandal broke around the infirmary.


We felt we were under the microscope all the time. The first day I came here I had to give a speech to the nurses to cheer them up

Ash Pawade, Bristol surgeon
As James Wisheart and Janardan Dhasmana were stopping their operations, Ash Pawade, trained in one of the best units in the world, in Melbourne, Australia, was preparing to come to Bristol - with full knowledge of the problems which lay ahead.

He told BBC News Online: "We all knew there were problems in Bristol - but Bristol was not the only unit with problems at the time."

Morale plummeting

However, morale was understandably poor at the time among the unit's staff.

"We felt we were under the microscope all the time. The first day I came here I had to give a speech to the nurses to cheer them up.

"I told them that with our efforts we can take this unit and come out of the ashes like a phoenix.

"And they have done it. I am proud to say we have done that."

Mr Pawade's results in various operations rank consistently better than what currently passes for the national average.

Ash Pawade
Ash Pawade has regained the trust of parents
The inquiry was told that one of the major obstacles to success at Bristol was having the operating theatres and intensive care facilities in a different location from the main children's hospital building.

However, on arrival, Pawade carried out 88 paediatric cardiac operations at the neighbouring Bristol Royal Infirmary's theatres - and only one died.

However, the major problem facing the unit was restoring the fragile confidence of parents bringing in desperately-ill children.

The constant barrage of press reports from the General Medical Council hearing was taking its toll, even though many knew that a new surgeon had been appointed.

The hospital decided that total transparency was required, and began to publish its results on its website and elsewhere - a move still unmatched by any other UK unit.

Pawade told BBC News Online: "It was important to project those results out to the public, our peers, to the media.

"That was the only way we could defend the unit."


I believe we have one of the best units in Europe

Ash Pawade, Bristol surgeon
Now he is worried that the flurry of publicity surrounding the release of the report could reawaken fears among parents.

He said: "I believe we have one of the best units in Europe. I don't want these patients to become frightened and go to another unit which may actually have worse results. Now we have to pacify those parents all over again."

Culture change

Ash Pawade highlights a changing culture, a more "down to earth" attitudes from consultants to their staff, whereas previously many were intimidating figures within their own unit.

"We are living in a completely different world now," he said.

Pawade had experienced the culture of the "godlike" consultant when working as a registrar in London hospitals prior to moving to Melbourne.

"When I came back, things had started to change here."

And he suspects the criticisms of doctors aired at the inquiry has now become somewhat "self-destructive".

"Behind a couple of sensational mishaps there are thousands and thousands of things which are excellent.

"The inquiry will probably highlight problems which have already been addressed."

If anything, the perception of the hospital among both doctors, and members of the local community, is now better than it was in the mid-1990s.

Demand for the services of the unit's surgeons is greater than ever before.

And should the knife come down on some of the UK's worst-performing units following the inquiry report, Bristol will surely not be among them.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Mr Ash Pawade, Bristol Children's Hospital
"Bristol was already turning a corner"
Full coverage of the Bristol heart babies inquiry report

Government response

Key stories

Key figures

Parents' stories

Background briefing

Analysis

Bristol year by year
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