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Last Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006, 04:48 GMT 05:48 UK
Baby breathing aid study cleared
Professor David Southall
Professor David Southall has faced several investigations
A way to help premature babies breathe does not cause long-term harm as previously feared, a study has shown.

Nottingham researchers, unconnected to the original trial in the early 1990s, assessed CNEP therapy - continuous negative-extrathoracic pressure.

It was pioneered by controversial Stoke-based paediatrician Professor David Southall.

The study appears in the Lancet, where child health experts say Professor Southall's work has been vindicated.


The Nottingham researchers followed up 133 of the 205 children still alive - now aged between nine and 15 - who were involved in the original CNEP study.

We must protect patients, but we must also find better ways to protect professionals
Professor Sir Alan Craft, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Dr Neil McIntosh, University of Edinburgh

Half had the CNEP treatment - where pressure is applied to a child's chest to aid breathing.

The rest were given the standard treatment of a breathing tube being inserted through the larynx - part of the windpipe.

After the study was published, some parents of the children given CNEP became concerned after suggestions it was linked to a small increase in deaths and in infants with abnormal brain scans.

This follow-up study found any differences between the two groups of children could be explained by chance.

In addition, no evidence was seen of a higher risk of long-term disabilities for children given CNEP.

Professor Neil Marlow, of Queen's Medical Centre, who led the study, said: "Our long-term study of the original trial participants suggests no evidence of disadvantage, in terms of long-term disability or psychological outcomes, from the use of CNEP."


Concerns over the CNEP treatment led one couple whose daughter died after the trial to take action against the doctors who treated her.

Carl and Debbie Henshall, of Clayton in Staffordshire, recently won an Appeal Court hearing which said the GMC should review its decision to reject their complaints that doctors did not give properly informed consent to medics for their girls to take part.

The CNEP trial has also been investigated by the hospital twice and been the subject of police inquiries.

The government also ordered a public inquiry into the trial.

But the author of that 2000 report - which was critical of the study - said it would have been less negative if he had had access to fuller information.

None of the investigations has supported parents' claims they were misled and consent forms forged.

In a commentary piece in this week's Lancet, Professor Southall and Dr Martin Samuels, who also led the original CNEP study, welcomed the latest findings.

Progress fears

They added: "We fear that over the last six years many infants with bronchiolitis [a potentially fatal chest infection] presenting to our children's unit have received unnecessarily intensive care."

Professor Sir Alan Craft, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and Dr Neil McIntosh from the University of Edinburgh Department of Child Life and Health supported Professor Southall's work.

They said CNEP should probably be retained for older children with bronchiolitis because other techniques have been developed since the original trial to help other babies.

They added: "We must protect patients, but we must also find better ways to protect professionals.

"If we do not, medical progress will cease, particularly in controversial and distressing areas."

The Department of Health said it would look at the findings of the study with interest.

Professor Southall was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council last year, over a matter not related to the CNEP trial.

He had suggested the husband of solicitor Sally Clark, who was wrongly convicted of murdering her two sons, was responsible for the babies' deaths, after watching a TV documentary.

The GMC said he could continue to practise, but he could not work in child protection.

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