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Thursday, October 22, 1998 Published at 12:32 GMT


Reforms cut no ice with Bristol parents

Michaela Willis: Why should doctors regulate themselves?

The parents of babies who died following heart surgery at a Bristol hospital say proposals to tighten up the way doctors practise medicine in the UK do not go far enough.

The Bristol Heart Babies
Surgeons' leaders have proposed five yearly tests for doctors to ensure that they keep up to date with medical advances.

In a package they claim will see a major culture change in the way medicine is practised, the Senate of Surgery also recommends that rapid response teams be sent into hospitals with failing standards, to ensure that the Bristol case can never happen again.

Two doctors were struck off and a third censured following the deaths of at least 29 babies who underwent surgery for heart conditions at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Not tough enough


Trevor Jones: 'It's an old boy's network'
However, parents whose children died at the hospital have claimed the new measures are not tough enough. They are also questioning the continued right of the medical profession to regulate its own affairs.

Trevor Jones, whose two-year-old daughter Bethany died following surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, said: "It seems to me it is the old boy network trying to hang on to the last bastions of power and maintain self regulation of the profession.


[ image: Trevor Jones: it is just the old boys' network protecting itself]
Trevor Jones: it is just the old boys' network protecting itself
"What I would like to see is an independent agency which would be able to monitor surgeons' and cardiologists' performance and nip things in the bud."

Michaela Willis, whose son died after surgery, was pleased that the failings at Bristol had been acknowledged and acted upon, but she said the new measures appeared insubstantial.

She said doctors should be re-tested more regularly than every five years.

"Five years is an awfully long time, a lot can happen in five years. Yearly would have sounded a lot better," she said.

"Unfortunately, they are still talking about self regulation. It has not worked in the past and they have given us nothing to substantiate that it is going to be any different in the future."

Ms Willis said younger surgeons seemed to be more ready to change.

But she said: "The older generation still seem to have this inability to accept that things have to move on, and that mistakes don't have to happen."

Public relations exercise


[ image: Malcolm Curnow: fears a publicity stunt]
Malcolm Curnow: fears a publicity stunt
Malcolm Curnow, chairman of the Bristol Heart Children's Action Group, said he was afraid that the new measures were simply a public relations exercise.

"Until such time as these proposals are translated into hard changes, the confidence will not be there," he said.

Mr Curnow, whose daughter Verity died following surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, said the proposals could not be properly implemented until effective data collection systems were introduced in the NHS.

"There is a change of culture taking place, but it still needs to go a lot further yet," he said.

"There is still pressure on surgeons to say the minimum to parents. Anybody going for an operation needs to know the full facts before they make a decision."

Mr Curnow said the proposals were dependent on new funding from the government, but he said they should be put in place regardless of whether funding was made available.



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