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The Bristol heart babies Wednesday, 17 March, 1999, 17:54 GMT
Bereaved parents 'treated shamefully'
16.07 17-03-99 coffins ac
The family were unaware the GMC had looked at the case
The parents of a baby who died following heart surgery have told how they were left dazed by the way they were let down by the health system.

The Bristol Heart Babies
First, they were poorly treated by the Bristol Royal Infirmary staff who informed them that the operation had failed, they told an inquiry.

Then they only discovered by chance that the case had been central to a long-running General Medical Council investigation into the conduct of doctors at the hospital.

They also claim they were "criminally" misled about the risks of the surgery.

Insensitive treatment

Mia Parsons, who had Down's syndrome, died in May 1993 - just days before her first birthday - following a complex operation at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

16.56 17-03-99 bri ac
Hospital staff were insensitive, the inquiry heard
The operation was performed by Mr James Wisheart, the surgeon at the centre of the scandal, in a bid to correct a heart murmur.

Mia's father, Michael Parsons, told the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry how he and his wife received "inept, unfeeling and thoughtless" treatment after her death.

They were informed in a corridor and in the presence of a child patient and her mother that the operation had failed, he said.

"The nurse came down at about 4.30pm and informed us that Mia had died in surgery.

"We felt very concerned about the lady who was with us as we were obviously upsetting her, so we left the ward.

"We were in the corridor, freaking out is the only words I can use to begin to describe the state we were in."

Mr Parsons told how he and his wife were taken into a small box room where their dead child was brought to them in a Moses basket.

He described the setting as a "junk room" filled with boxes of tissues, bandages, plastic bags and a settee.

From trust to disbelief

Mr Parsons said originally he and his wife had felt privileged to have Mr Wisheart treat their daughter.

16.56 17-03-99 wisheart ac
Mr James Wisheart performed the operation
But this changed to horror when he later discovered the surgeon's poor success rate at the operation.

Mr Wisheart had told him the possibility of their daughter dying was one in five, he said. However, this was not true of Mr Wisheart's personal performance.

Mr Parsons said: "Had we known of the real statistics we would never have accepted the referral. When I examined the issue of consent I become angry and emotional.

"When I signed the consent form I believed I was doing the best thing for Mia. However, in retrospect I know that I did not."

He added: "I maintain that my consent to this operation was obtained by giving me false information. This, in my view, is criminal.

"Mr Wisheart has caused heartache to me, my wife and many other families."

GMC left parents in dark over investigation

Mr Parsons said he did not know the GMC was investigating Mr Wisheart along with fellow surgeon Mr Janardhan Dhasmana and hospital chief executive Dr John Roylance.

He found out through a BBC Panorama special, which examined the problems with paediatric heart surgery at the hospital.

He told the inquiry he contacted the GMC after seeing operations similar to Mia's in the television report.

He discovered that Mia's operation had been thoroughly examined during the hearings, but that his daughter had only been referred to as child W12.

He said: "I had evidence which was of the utmost help to the inquiry.

"I understand that Mia's case was pivotal and I think it would have done me and my wife a great deal of good to have taken part in the process and at least try to see justice done".

He added: "Our memories of Bristol are all of pain and we remember little that does not cause us distress."

Successful operation

Later in the day the inquiry heard from John McLorinan.

He said Mr Wisheart successfully performed complex heart surgery on his son Joseph, who also had Down's syndrome.

Mr McLorinan is a member of the Bristol Surgeons Support Group, which wants to restore Mr Wisheart and Mr Dhasmanas' reputations.

He said Mr Wisheart was initially reluctant to perform the operation and repeatedly warned them of the risk.

Mr McLorinan said: "We had the impression Mr Wisheart wasn't at all happy about undertaking the operation. It was something he did with reluctance.

"He told us about all the risks and he was always speaking with 'ifs and buts'."

He added: "We understood that Mr Wisheart had, through the totality of his experience and his skills, given Joe an equal chance of living or dying.

"Put crudely, it was on the toss of a coin, but we wanted Joe to have the chance and we were confident.

"We were given the impression that the team were putting all the alternatives and we were making the choices."

See also:

14 Sep 98 | The Bristol heart babies
17 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
17 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
22 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
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