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Programme highlights Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 15:35 GMT
Will the Alder Hey report lead to an anti-doctor backlash?
The hospital
Alder Hey hospital in Merseyside
Rather unusually these days, details of the Alder Hey report have successfully been kept under lock and key - free of any disruptive leaks.

In those circumstances, it's perhaps surprising that the Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, should have had so much to say about the findings in advance.

In particular, he and his colleagues have used vivid language to alert us to the nature of Michael Redfern's report: what happened at Alder Hey, one Health Department aide told the press at the weekend, was grotesque.

While Mr Milburn has given a series of interviews describing the story of organs removed - and stored - without their families' consent as 'unacceptable', 'shocking', and reminiscent of 'a secret society'.

In addition, he has already outlined the changes in the law he would like to see to make sure that the balance of control shifts from doctors to patients and their families.

Milburn's attitude

But Mr Milburn's approach is puzzling.

If the report is as bad as he describes it, then no one will need his adjectival assistance to make up their own minds.

Unkind observers have suggested that his interventions over the weekend may have been designed in some measure to deflect attention from the Mandelson affair.

Mr Milburn may also have been keen to fix in voters' minds, in advance, the strength of the ministerial response, underlining at the same time the fact that most of the Alder Hey abuses took place long before Labour came to power.

The Health Secretary
Alan Milburn says the report is grotesque

However there are risks in stoking up public outrage, and - by extension - reducing public confidence still further in doctors.

The medical profession in general, and the BMA in particular, was shocked to be included amongst Tony Blair's targets in the celebrated 'forces of conservatism speech to the 1999 party conference.

While teachers have been under intense scrutiny ever since Labour came to power, promising to reform the education system. The Chief Inspector, Chris Woodhead, remarked memorably that there were 15,000 unsatisfactory teachers at work in schools.

Professionals in both fields believe that any improvements in standards have been achieved at the cost of severely damaged morale.

As far as doctors are concerned, Alder Hey comes after a string of other disastrous events - from Harold Shipman's murderous career, to the depradations of the gynaecologist Rodney Ledward.

Alan Milburn's approach to the scandal on Merseyside - and the sense he has created of a deep-seated problem running throughout the NHS - is bound to add to the pressure on all medical staff.

Ian Bogle, the Chairman of the BMA and a former GP on Merseyside, told the World at One that Mr Milburn's strong language wouldn't help anyone.

"The initial comments about shocking and gruesome do not help the medical profession carry out their jobs, or the parents. It won't help doctors' morale, or patients' confidence. Dr Bogle's comments were supported by Dr Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat front-bench spokesman, and a medical doctor from Merseyside. He told the programme that it was questionable for politicians who were most responsible for the failures of the NHS to then blame the professionals. Doctors at Alder Hey Hospital were motivated by research, and not malice towards the parents, even if the outcome was a disastrous error. Politicians have to be careful to leap to judgement when it is they who make the law.

Dr Ian Bogle
This won't help doctors' morale or patients confidence
Evan Harris
It is questionable for politicians to blame professionals
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