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BMA Conference Tuesday, 3 July, 2001, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Doctors: 'We're not perfect'
Bristol babies memorial
The Bristol babies scandal provoked much outrage
By BBC News Online's Caroline Ryan in Bournemouth

One of the UK's top doctors has warned doctors cannot "guarantee perfection".

Dr Peter Hawker, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants' committee, said that the forthcoming report into the Bristol heart baby deaths would make uncomfortable reading - but should not lead to unrealistic promises.


Despite all our work, all our systems, all our safeguards, we cannot guarantee perfection

Dr Peter Hawker
Speaking at the annual BMA conference in Bournemouth, he said: "A mature profession must accept justified criticism.

"What we must not do in the light of Bristol, is claim that all this was in the past and it will never happen again.

"Despite all our work, all our systems, all our safeguards, we cannot guarantee perfection."

Dr Hawker added: "The NHS is not perfect. The practice of medicine is not perfect."

'Doctor bashing'

Dr Peter Hawker
Dr Peter Hawker
Earlier, doctors had accused the media and the government of "doctor bashing", and said they should not shoulder the blame on those occasions when it was the system that was at fault.

On Monday, BMA chairman Ian Bogle attacked Health Secretary Alan Milburn's reaction to the report into the organ retention scandal at Liverpool's Alder Hey Children's Hospital as "shockingly hysterical".

A day later, Dr Anne Thorpe, a histopathologist at the West Middlesex Hospital, said: "The Secretary of State's zeal in condemning doctors at that time has dealt a near fatal blow to the specialty of paediatric pathology."

She added: "What can be more important to a family that has lost a baby than to find out why their baby died and whether there are any implications for the next pregnancy?

"Yet as a direct consequence of Alan Milburn's outbursts, the already under-resourced specialty is now in crisis."

She told of a caring and respected young consultant who had worked "tirelessly" with and for the Bristol parents' association.

Dr Thorpe said: "She found her children being taunted in the playground and her post-bag contained hate-mail.

Media 'shame'

"She has resigned, moved to a remote rural area and become a trainee GP."


Shame on the media for sensationalising and exaggerating incidents

Dr Anoopam Moar
She also told of another doctor who had emigrated, and yet another who had taken early retirement.

Dr Anoopam Moar, a GP from the north west, launched a stinging attack on the press: "Shame on the media for sensationalising and exaggerating incidents.

"Shame on you for failing to report accurately adverse clinical events."

But despite professional anger at what are seen as unwarranted attacks on doctors, Dr Hawker said the BMA, often seen as negative and even defensive, must embrace change.

"We can therefore expect that not every idea coming out of Richmond House (Department of Health headquarters) is totally barmy, most of them, but not all.

"Not everything good is invented and proposed by doctors."

Taking this stance, he said, would strengthen consultants' position when they did oppose policies.

See also:

02 May 01 | Health
15 Feb 01 | Health
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