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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 10:30 GMT
GMC probes Munchausen's doctor
Professor David Southall
Professor David Southall faces GMC investigations
A leading doctor faces investigation into allegations he wrongly diagnosed child abuse, BBC News has learned.

Professor David Southall is facing a GMC investigation after complaints by at least six parents dating back at least seven years.

Some say their children were taken into care after they were wrongly diagnosed with Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy.

Adults with the condition may induce or exaggerate illness in children to attract attention to themselves.

Professor Southall is a consultant paediatrician based at the North Staffordshire Hospital at Stoke on Trent.

He is one of the country's main experts on Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, also known as Fabricated or Induced Illness.

The GMC is set to consider two complaints against Professor Southall in the summer.

A separate complaint relating to research on newborn babies was rejected by the council.


The BBC's Andrew Hosken has spoken to four women who have complained to the General Medical Council that Professor Southall wrongly diagnosed abuse in their cases.

Only a public inquiry will sort the matter out
Earl Howe, Conservative health spokesman
At least three other parents are believed to have complained to the council.

Some of the parents say their children were wrongly taken into care as a result of Professor Southall's diagnoses.

They say other doctors' opinions contradicted his diagnosis of child abuse.

The first allegations are expected to be considered by the GMC in the summer.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Professor Southall was involved in a controversial study where covert video surveillance to detect child abuse.

More than 30 women were taken to court as a result.

But some critics were concerned there was the possibility that children could be exposed to abuse as a result - in one case, a mother was filmed breaking her child's arm.

'No evidence'

Professor Southall said the GMC had taken seven years to come to a final decision on allegations made about his work.

He added: "A group of malicious individuals seeking to destroy our child protection work latched on to the concerns of a vulnerable group of parents whose babies had either died or become damaged as a result of premature birth.

"Many of the latter came, over time, to resent and resist the way their concerns were being used in this way."

In a statement, the University Hospital of North Staffordshire Trust said independent experts who had examined Professor Southall's child protection work had found he had: "always acted in a way that promoted the best interests of children in his care and he took decisions in collaboration with colleagues from other agencies.

"They did not find evidence of inappropriate diagnosis."

The trust added that other investigations completed to date have found no evidence to support claims of incompetence or serious professional incompetence.

The General Medical Council said its preliminary procedures committee had considered two complaints related to Professor Southall.

A spokeswoman said: "After examination of the evidence, they have decided not to proceed with one of the cases.

"The other has been referred to the professional conduct committee (PCC).

"The PCC is considering a separate matter relating to Professor Southall in the summer."

The PCC has the power to strike doctors off the medical register.

One mother, who didn't want to be named, who has complained to the GMC, told the BBC: "It didn't only destroy me, it destroyed a lot of other people in the process."

Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics said: "There is something about the way a few people amongst paediatricians working in child protection have become almost obsessive, and are far too willing to make a diagnosis of child abuse.

"It should be a diagnosis of last resort. But for too many paediatricians, its become a diagnosis of almost first resort."

Conservative Health spokesman Earl Howe called for a public inquiry into the issue of Munchausen's diagnoses.

He told the BBC: "Only a public inquiry will sort the matter out."

Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy
03 Mar 04  |  Medical notes
Controversial doctor reinstated
12 Oct 01  |  Health

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