Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

The Wisheart affair: paediatric cardiological services in Bristol, 1990-5

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 24 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1144
  1. Peter M Dunn, emeritus professor of perinatal medicine and child health
  1. University of Bristol, Southmead Hospital, Bristol BS10 5NB

    Many colleagues, patients, and friends of James Wisheart, Janardin Dhasmana, and John Roylance will have been deeply shocked by the unjust way in which the three men have been treated. Every sympathy is due to those who have lost loved ones. However, whereas doctors will readily understand the aggressive grief that some parents have shown, their anger should surely be reserved for the news media (and their informants) that have misdirected this grief against the Bristol surgeons using a sustained stream of biased, misleading, and often inaccurate information. And the defendants' explanations remained almost entirely unreported after they presented their case.

    Key messages

    • The Wisheart affair has had an immense impact on the public's confidence in doctors and on the morale of the medical profession in the United Kingdom

    • Several very senior colleagues of the three defendants, who are close to the Bristol scene, share a grave concern at the way in which the surgeons were tried by the media and found guilty by the General Medical Council's professional conduct committeeacting as prosecutor, judge,and jury

    • While it is essential that the GMC should continue to regulate the medical profession, its disciplinary process requires urgent modification

    • Hopefully, next year's public inquiry will resolve these concerns

    Finding the charges proved

    In June 1998 the professional conduct committee of the General Medical Council announced that it had found the charges proved. But what charges? Few appreciate that many of the original charges against the surgeons, including those of clinical and technical incompetence, had either been quietly dropped or were found not proved. The disputed charges that remained were diminished in substance, some to the point of being tenuous or capable of being levied at any practising doctor.

    The legal assessor to the committee advised it to be sure that the facts were true, that no other registered medical practitioner observing …

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