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More on the Bristol affair

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 10 April 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1009

The affair has had several serious negative outcomes

  1. Peter M Dunn, Emeritus professor of perinatal medicine and child health. (
  1. University of Bristol, Southmead Hospital, Bristol BS10 5NB
  2. University of Bristol, St Michael's Hospital, Bristol BS2 8EG
  3. Geelong Hospital, Victoria 3220, Australia
  4. Constructive Dialogue for Clinical Accountability, 54 Alma Vale Road, Bristol BS8 2HS
  5. 61 New Cheltenham Road, Kingswood, South Gloucester BS15 1UL

    EDITOR—Bolsin's audit of the Bristol surgeons' work in 1990-2 was first seen by them in May 1995 after it had been widely reported in the media. It was then found to be flawed.1Bolsin's article also contains several errors,2to some of which I have already responded. 1 3I was surprised, for example, that he still denied that his audit had been secret, for he had referred to it in those terms at the General Medical Council's inquiry (day 7, 23 October, p 102 of transcript). I note too that he now claims that his audit started in 19912;when asked at the inquiry whether his data could have been used by Private Eye in April 1992,4he categorically denied starting data collection and analysis before the late summer of that year (see the inquiry's transcripts for day 6 (22 October, pp 81-6) and day 7 (pp 16-20, 24).5

    It is difficult to understand Bolsin's motivation for continuing to attack the Bristol surgeons after the GMC's harsh determination in June 1998. Until May 1995 he was for seven years a vital member of the surgical team. Anaesthetists share responsibility during cardiac bypass operations for keeping patients alive and their brains well perfused. Has Bolsin ever considered whether he may himself have contributed to the disappointing outcome among 4% of the surgeons' cases (see day 7 of inquiry's transcripts, p 42).5

    Bolsin has been hailed as a “courageous whistleblower.” 4But his unilateral approach to the Department of Health in January 1995 had no positive influence on paediatric cardiac surgery in Bristol. The highly effective improvements to the service, first requested by the surgical team in 1989, had been agreed by the trust several months earlier and were already being implemented.1

    There were, …

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