Deadly legacy of GMC’s Southall hearings fiascoBMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7212 (Published 08 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7212
- Leonard Williams, retired paediatrician1
Professor David Southall must have been investigated more than any other doctor.1 He has appeared before the General Medical Council on five separate charges, and has been investigated by the police, his trust, and his strategic health authority. He has been cleared at every stage. He has been compared to Dr Mengele in parliament and vilified by the media, and a website is dedicated to his downfall. Yet he is highly respected by paediatricians throughout the world. How is this possible?
Professor Southall’s reputation was forged by his work on sudden infant death syndrome. His investigations led him to believe that some babies were being smothered, which he confirmed using covert video surveillance. His team videoed 30 mothers smothering their babies. Each episode was interrupted, and no baby was harmed. Most important of all, these babies had 41 older siblings, of whom 12 had died suddenly, with 11 of them having been certified as dying from sudden infant death syndrome. It is clear in retrospect that they were likely to have been killed.2
A vigilante group began to coordinate assistance for parents charged with abuse and to orchestrate multiple complaints to the GMC and other authorities. Professor Southall was prevented from working while these many investigations took place.
Even more importantly, the use of covert video surveillance was almost completely stopped. But there is no reason to believe that the smothering has ceased. Southall’s analysis of the siblings showed that smothering is highly dangerous, but the actions of the GMC and other authorities have prevented use of a means of detection. One is left to wonder, how many babies have died and will die because of these actions?
Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7212
Competing interests: LH is a member of PACA and assisted in Dr Southall’s defence at the GMC.