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The Bristol heart babies Wednesday, 8 September, 1999, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Heart nurse's 'gut feeling' about Bristol
Bristol had a high death rate for heart operations on babies
A nursing support specialist who realised something was wrong with children's cardiac surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary has told the inquiry why she did not blow the whistle.

Helen Stratton, whose job was to counsel parents about the surgery faced by their babies, found out by talking to colleagues in other hospitals that death rates were higher at Bristol.

She also discovered that babies were spending longer in the operating theatre, and subsequently in intensive care.

Eventually, anaesthetist Dr Stephen Bolsin compiled his own audit of success rates, which led to the biggest surgical scandal in the history of the NHS.

Nurse a "weak player"

But Ms Stratton told the public inquiry into the affair that she felt she was a "weak player", and that her views would not be listened to.

The inquiry is looking into death rates at the hospital in the 12 years leading to 1995.

Dr Stephen Bolsin: 'strong player'
It heard how Ms Stratton often delegated the job of accompanying parents to the operating theatre because of the distress it was causing her.

She said: "At times I felt I wanted to say to parents: 'Let's go back upstairs and go back to your GP and discuss going somewhere else.'

"I thought I wanted to pick the baby up and run out, but I would never have done that."

Ms Stratton decided that Bristol had problems after speaking to other nurses at Birmingham Children's Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital, both centres of excellence in paediatric cardiac surgery.

The nurse discussed her fears with Dr Bolsin, and concluded, she said, that he would be a better person to voice such concerns, especially as hers were based partly on a "gut feeling".

"I was a weak player at this time whereas he was a strong player," she said.

"Dismissive and patronising"

She told the inquiry that she found James Wisheart, the surgeon at the centre of the scandal, "dismissive and patronising" of her job, and that she felt Janardan Dhasmana would take any suggestion for change as a criticism.

Mr Wisheart and Mr Dhasmana, alongside hospital manager Dr John Roylance, were disciplined by the General Medical Council after the scandal became public.

Mr Wisheart and Dr Roylance were struck off, while Mr Dhasmana was banned from operating on babies. He was subsequently dismissed by the hospital.

See also:

15 Feb 99 | The Bristol heart babies
22 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
15 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
07 Jun 99 | The Bristol heart babies
15 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
25 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
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