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The Bristol heart babies Monday, 13 September, 1999, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
GMC chief frustrates parents
gmc
Sir Donald Irvine heads the doctors' regulatory body
Supporters of the disgraced Bristol doctors and their opponents alike were frustrated in their attempt to question the president of the General Medical Council (GMC) at a public inquiry on Monday.

The Bristol Heart Babies
Sir Donald Irvine was giving evidence to the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry, which is investigating the quality of care for child heart patients at the hospital between 1983 and 1995.

He was head of the GMC in 1998, when at the end of the council's longest ever hearing, its professional conduct committee banned two of the Bristol doctors and suspended another from child surgery.

The Bristol Surgeons Support Group Parents wants the doctors' names cleared, and wanted to challenge Sir Donald over the GMC ruling.

However, the Bristol Heart Children's Action Group said the GMC case did not go far enough and wanted to question Sir Donald over matters being "swept under the carpet".

Neither group got their way, as they were told at the start of proceedings that Sir Donald would not be allowed to discuss the GMC case for legal issues.

Doctors' interests

Instead, he answered general questions about the council's role in regulating doctors' performance.

The council had come in for criticism that it served only to protect doctors' interests.

Sir Donald said this had arisen from misunderstanding its function - instead of monitoring standards, the council could only advise on medical education, qualifications and standards.

It could only act after it had received a complaint, he said, but pointed to a huge increase in complaints since the 1995 Medical Performance Act as evidence that the system worked.

However, his evidence did not satisfy the parents' groups.

Parents' doubts

Michaela Willis, of the 250-strong Bristol Heart Children's Action Group, said: "Parents would have been happier if Sir Donald had been able to speak on the situation at the GMC, because that is what most parents believed he was here to do.

"The inquiry is not able to change the GMC decision but it would obviously have made people feel better to hear these questions being asked rather than being swept under the carpet. It always leaves that doubt in your mind."

roylance
Dr John Roylance accused Sir Donald Irvine of bias
The 700 members of the Bristol Surgeons Support Group had lodged a list of questions, mainly on the background to the GMC's decision.

Michele Cummings, chairwoman of the group, said: "We feel these were very important questions which the public had a right to know."

Following the GMC case, One of the doctors who was banned, Dr John Roylance, appealed to the Privy Council, claiming Sir Donald had been biased during the hearings because his own grandson was suffering a heart condition at the time.

But Law Lords on the council's judicial committee said Sir Donald had acted with propriety and the GMC had been right to strike Dr Roylance off.

See also:

15 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
24 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
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