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The Bristol heart babies Monday, 15 March, 1999, 23:38 GMT
Bristol doctors struck off
Two of the doctors at the centre of the Bristol heart babies scandal have been struck off by the General Medical Council (GMC). Mr James Wisheart, and Dr John Roylance were both found guilty of serious professional misconduct and will not be allowed to practice medicine again.

The Bristol Heart Babies
A third doctor, Dr Janardhan Dhasmana, was also found guilty of serious professional misconduct but will still be allowed to work within the NHS. However, the GMC said he will not be allowed to perform heart surgery on children for three years.

Immediately after the rulings, the Health Secretary Frank Dobson announced a public inquiry.

The GMC announcement followed its own inquiry into the deaths of 29 babies in the doctors' care at the Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1988 and 1995.

Two weeks ago, the GMC ruled that Mr Wisheart, who is now retired, and Mr Dhasmana, continued to operate on children despite their poor success rate and without sufficient regard to the safety and best interests of their patients.

The GMC told Dr Roylance, former chief executive of the United Bristol Healthcare NHS Trust, that he should have stopped the surgeons operating when colleagues made clear their concerns about the number of children who had died.

Silent tribute

After the rulings, the parents of children who died at the BRI stood in silence for one minute outside the GMC building.

Around 40 parents from the Bristol Heart Children Action Group were involved in the symbolic gesture as they stood near a heart-shaped wreath.

Dr Janardhan Dhasmana
Dr Janardhan Dhasmana will still be allowed to practice medicine
There were placards bearing the names of 150 children they say died or were brain-injured in Bristol heart operations - the inquiry refused to consider the cases of children who died 30 days after their operations.

The decision to allow Dr Janardhan Dhasmana to continue practising was greeted with disdain.

Tracey Clarke of Tiverton, Devon, whose 11-month-old daughter Melissa died at the BRI said: "The hearing was a farce. They struck off the two doctors who are retired and left Mr Dhasmana who is still practising to carry on working."

Public inquiry

Health secretary Frank Dobson announced a full public inquiry into the scandal immediately after the GMC rulings. It will be chaired by Professor Ian Kennedy, an eminent lawyer and expert in medical, legal and ethical issues.

Dr John Roylance
Dr John Roylance should have stopped the operations
He will have the power to require witnesses to attend the inquiry, to give evidence on oath and to produce any documents he demands.

In a statement Mr Dobson said: "I promised that once the GMC had completed its disciplinary proceedings against the three doctors concerned, the Government would establish an independent inquiry into children's heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

"I am therefore taking the earliest possible opportunity to come to the House of Commons to announce that I have decided to set up a public inquiry."

Legal moves

The United Bristol Healthcare NHS Trust will now have to defend itself in the face of huge legal claims. These could total more than 20 million in damages and compensation.

Parents will now sue for operations that went wrong
At least 95 families of children who died or who suffered brain damage after heart operations are currently involved in discussions over legal moves against the trust.

Solicitor Laurence Vick, who acts for the biggest single group of parents, said that he had been contacted by a further 60 families whose children underwent heart operations at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

"I anticipate that the majority will instruct me to pursue claims," he said.

"Depending on the severity of injury, the child's care needs, and the child's expectancy of life these claims could be potentially worth 1m or more each."

Future developments

The trust issued a statement in which it said it supported the inquiry ordered by the Secretary of State. "Such an inquiry will be the best way of fully exploring the events of the past and the Trust will fully co-operate with the inquiry," the statement read.

The Trust is to discuss Mr Dhasmana's future employment: "Arrangements put in place during the hearing for Mr Dhasmana's adult patients to become the responsibility of his colleagues in Cardiac Services will continue for the time being."

Sir Rodney Sweetnam, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, called for new safeguards to protect patients.

"Many of the issues highlighted in the case have already been addressed and appropriate additional safeguards put in place," he said.

"However, the seriousness of these failures necessitates still further measures which are being developed in partnership with the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons."

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GMC chief executive Finlay Scott on the lessons of the case
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See also:

08 Jun 98 | The Bristol heart babies
18 Jun 98 | The Bristol heart babies
08 Jun 98 | The Bristol heart babies
15 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
19 Jun 98 | The Bristol heart babies
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