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The Bristol heart babies Monday, 15 March, 1999, 23:27 GMT
Doctor suspensions soar in wake of Bristol scandal
Hospital scene
Hospital doctors face increasing scrutiny of their work
The number of doctors being suspended has risen from one to around 12 per month since the Bristol heart death babies ruling, according to a doctors' defence body.

The Bristol Heart Babies
The suspensions follow a surge in the number of complaints against hospital doctors from patients and colleagues.

The Medical Defence Union says most of the complaints relate to patient consent or the alleged lack of it.

It blames the rise on increased public awareness and stricter guidance for doctors in the wake of the General Medical Council (GMC) inquiry into the Bristol heart surgery scandal.

Performance measures

After the case, the GMC published an advice booklet, Maintaining Good Medical Practice.

This explains to doctors exactly when they should take action if a colleague's performance becomes so poor it puts patients' lives at risk.

Dr Peter Schutte, of the Medical Defence Union, estimated the number of suspensions from duty had risen from "one a month to, say, twelve a month" since the GMC's ruling in June.

He said the tougher guidelines were a core reason for the increase.

The rise in the number of complaints was "a new development since the GMC published its booklet", he stated.

"But more dramatic still is the number of doctors either formally or informally suspended."

James Wisheart
James Wisheart: action against him seems to have boosted suspensions
The GMC's investigation found three doctors guilty of serious professional misconduct. Two of the three were banned from practising.

However, the case only came before the GMC after 29 children had died during or after surgery performed by James Wisheart and Dr Janardan Dhasmana.

Witnesses in the case said they had been afraid to come forward when they saw things were going wrong.

The GMC guidance is designed to ensure this doesn't happen again.

But Dr Schutte stressed that there was nothing to indicate a real drop in clinical quality as complaints generally did not progress far through the disciplinary procedure.

"Something like 95% of cases are resolved at a local level. The local resolution level is very effective," he said.

Complaints procedure

But many of the new cases are progressing to the independent review panel stage - one step before a case is referred to the health service ombudsman.

The complaints are also more likely to be directed at hospital doctors than before.

They used to account for 20% of all serious complaints.

Since June, this figure has risen to 50%.

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