Feature Professional conduct

Three doctors and a GMC prosecution

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a907 (Published 24 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a907
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist
  1. 1London
  1. Jgornall{at}mac.com

    Following the collapse of a GMC case involving neonatal research that took 15 years to come to a hearing, Jonathan Gornall has uncovered a trail of incompetence and maladministration

    On 8 May this year, 15 years after the conclusion of what has become one of the most exhaustively scrutinised trials in the history of paediatric research,1 and 11 years after the General Medical Council first received complaints about it, a fitness to practise panel finally sat to hear charges against three of the doctors involved. Almost two months later, on 4 July, the case was thrown out by the panel, which accepted half-time submissions by the doctors’ lawyers that they had no case to answer.

    The cloud that since 1997 had hung over the heads of David Southall, Martin Samuels, and Andrew Spencer and, by association, everyone at the two centres that had participated in the trial of continuous negative extrathoracic pressure (CNEP) as a treatment for neonatal respiratory failure, had been lifted.

    After a decade of investigation the hearing had begun with a delay. The counsel for the GMC and the complainants applied for a five day adjournment in the light of an expert’s report they had commissioned only 10 days earlier. The report, by Jane Hutton, professor in medical statistics at the University of Warwick, was at odds with the evidence of the prosecution’s main expert witness, on which the bulk of the charges had been based.1

    Independent experts?

    In its determination the panel accepted the defence submission that Richard Nicholson, editor and owner of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, was neither an expert nor independent.2 No reasonable panel, said the chairman, David Kyle, former chief crown prosecutor, “could safely rely on his opinion evidence, firstly because of considerable reservations whether he qualified as an expert …

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