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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 05/98: The Bristol heart babies  
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The Bristol heart babies Monday, 5 October, 1998, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Bristol parents 'insulted' by offers
Coffins
Parents have pursued a very public campaign
Parents of children who died in the Bristol heart scandal have reacted angrily to the compensation deals offered by National Health Service (NHS).

Some families have called the offers of up to 20,000 an insult and have condemned the way deadlines were set for accepting them.

They said lawyers from the NHS Litigation Authority had pressurised them to accept the deals before the public inquiry into the scandal begins at the end of October.

Rejection of the deals would mean parents having to pursue claims through the courts, risking huge legal bills if their actions failed. The Bristol Heart Children's Action Group (BHCAG) described the approach of the NHS lawyers as "cruel".

Costs

"The families need to be given time to see what the public inquiry will bring out," said Trevor Jones, a spokesman for BHCAG.

Trevor Jones
Trevor Jones: Parents need time
"We believe the NHS has acted quickly to stop parents, through the public inquiry, getting to the truth. We think it is a damage-limitation exercise on the part of the NHS."

Mr Jones said parents had been given until September 30th to accept the offers through the NHS litigation system or reject them and go through the courts for compensation.

This would mean anyone pursuing a claim would then start to incur costs, he said.

"If cases were perhaps lost, the parents would have to pay the costs of not only their own legal team but also the NHS's legal team as well."

History

The events surrounding the deaths of 29 babies at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) between 1988 and 1995 were the subject of longest ever inquiry in UK medical history.

The hearings at the General Medical Council (GMC), doctors' regulatory authority, resulted in two doctors - James Wisheart and John Roylance - being struck off the medical register.

A third doctor, Janardan Dhasmana, was also found guilty of serious professional misconduct, and, although allowed to continue working, was eventually sacked by the BRI.

At the time, the parents complained that the GMC inquiry was too narrow and should have investigated many more cases where babies and young children were left brain damaged after operations at the hospital.

The public inquiry, scheduled to start later this month, will consider these cases for the first time.

Settlement

A Department of Health said 10 of the 27 compensation offers had so far been accepted, all on legal advice. The actual amounts in each case are confidential between the hospital trust and the family.

James Wisheart
James Wisheart: struck off
"We believe that the offers reflect the loss and suffering of the family and they are above the level normally awarded by the courts for bereavement," the spokesman said. He denied deadlines for accepting the offers had been made.

Solicitor Laurence Vick, a medical negligence expert with Exeter-based Tozers who is handling nearly 70 cases relating to the scandal, has issued 40 writs for bereaved parents and is processing 20 cases of injured or brain-injured children.

Total claims could amount to many millions of pounds.

Mr Vick said many parents were offended by the cash offers which they considered "insulting". Those who had rejected the offers were continuing their litigation.

The public inquiry formally opens in Bristol on October 27 under Professor Ian Kennedy. It is expected to last well over a year.

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