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Tuesday, October 27, 1998 Published at 02:44 GMT

Bristol inquiry takes to the Net

People can contribute using their desktop computer

The public inquiry into children's heart operations at a Bristol hospital has invited people to contribute evidence using the Internet.

It is the first time the Internet has been used in this way.

The inquiry, which starts on Tuesday, will look at the "management of the care of children receiving complex cardiac surgical services at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) between 1984 and 1995".

At least 29 children died following heart operations at the hospital in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The inquiry team has set up a Website that will ask users for contributions and chart the progress of the inquiry.

It will be updated each night and will provide full transcripts of each day's proceedings.

Use of technology

Although the BSE Inquiry also has a Website providing coverage of proceedings, Richard Green, a spokesman for the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry, described its site as "the first of its type".

[ image: The inquiry will investigate paediatric heart surgery]
The inquiry will investigate paediatric heart surgery
It differs from the BSE site by encouraging people to contribute to the hearings and by being in place before the inquiry starts.

Mr Green said: "We hope to allow people who either can't get to the hearings or can't get to them regularly to get the latest information about where we are.

"We're trying to get people to come to us."

People will be able to contribute via e-mail, telephone, fax or letter.

The team has set up a local-rate telephone number for submissions.

Anyone who makes a contribution via any medium will be asked if they wish to make a formal written statement.

This will then be entered into the evidence for the inquiry.

No-one on trial

Professor Ian Kennedy, who will chair the inquiry, said the aim is to ensure open access.

He said: "The objective of this inquiry is to understand what happened in children's heart surgical services in Bristol, why it happened, and what lessons can be learned for the benefit of the NHS as a whole.

"No one is on trial at this inquiry, and it will not be run as a court or a disciplinary hearing."

[ image: Mr Janardan Dhasmana was banned from operating on children]
Mr Janardan Dhasmana was banned from operating on children
The inquiry was set up in response to a ruling by the doctors' regulatory body the General Medical Council (GMC).

It found three BRI doctors guilty of serious professional misconduct in connection with the deaths of 29 babies and toddlers following heart operations.

It banned two of the doctors, heart surgeon Mr James Wisheart and his former boss Dr John Roylance, from practising medicine.

The third doctor, Mr Janardan Dhasmana, was banned from operating on children for three years.

'250 more cases'

Following the ruling, Health Secretary Frank Dobson responded to public outcry by announcing the wide-ranging public inquiry.

While the GMC case was limited to looking at the 29 cases, the public inquiry will be able to examine as many relevant cases as it wants, including those of any children who ended up brain damaged after operations.

The Bristol Heart Children's Action Group, which represents bereaved parents who lost children at BRI, estimates that there are 200 to 250 cases of children experiencing brain damage or dying that have yet to be examined.

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