Page last updated at 19:56 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Review given for boy's 1990 death

Robbie Powell
Robbie Powell died in hospital in Swansea in 1990

A charity has won the legal right to challenge a decision by the General Medical Council (GMC) not to investigate a boy's death 19 years ago.

Robbie Powell, 10, died of Addison's disease, a chronic but treatable condition affecting the adrenal glands.

Robbie's father William Powell, of Ystradgynlais, Powys, had asked the GMC to investigate in 2003.

The case brought by Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) will now go to a full judicial review.

A GMC spokeswoman has previously said it would be inappropriate for the council to comment ahead of the judicial review.

Mr Powell believed there was a "cover-up" by doctors who had allegedly falsified documents relating to his son's care to convince others of their competence.

The very fact that the GMC threw all of their considerable resources at trying to avoid scrutiny of its decision is worrying
Peter Walsh, AvMA

In 2004, a jury at the inquest into Robbie's death returned a verdict of natural causes, aggravated by neglect.

The inquest heard a hospital consultant had ordered a test which would have picked up Addison's disease - a rare but treatable hormonal condition - but the test was never carried out.

He turned to the charity AvMA after being told in 2008 the GMC would not investigate because the events took place more than five years before the allegations were brought to its attention.

Nigel Pleming QC, counsel for the charity, told Mr Justice Davis that is was wrong in law and irrational for the GMC to apply the five-year rule and to say there were no exceptional circumstances to justify the case proceeding in the public interest.

Robbie Powell's headstone
The Powell family have campaigned since Robbie's death in 1990

He said that while some form of dishonesty was suspected by Mr Powell at an early stage, the key evidence to establish it to the necessary standard of proof only emerged between 2001 and 2003 in the course of the second police investigation into the events.

He told the judge Mr Powell's allegations first came to the GMC's attention in January 1995 - within the five-year period - when the GMC was sent a report from The Guardian newspaper.

Mr Justice Davies ruled "not without hesitation" there was a case to go to a full hearing and said it was arguable the GMC may have got it wrong in the approach it took to the rule.

"Whether it did in fact or law get it wrong can be debated at greater length," he added.

He also granted permission on the exceptional circumstances point.

AvMA chief executive Peter Walsh said: "This is one small step towards justice and forcing the GMC to live up to its responsibilities.

"However, the very fact that the GMC threw all of their considerable resources at trying to avoid scrutiny of its decision is worrying.

"More worrying still is its position that even the grossest acts of dishonesty by doctors do not even warrant an investigation, provided the deceit is maintained for long enough."


In the two weeks before his death, Robbie was seen seven times by five family doctors. None of them realised that he might have Addison's disease.

The family first heard of Addison's Disease after the post mortem examination.

Robbie's parents were awarded compensation in 1996 after making a clinical negligence claim over his treatment but never received the money because it was absorbed within legal costs of the case.

The former West Glamorgan Health Authority accepted civil liability.

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