Intended for healthcare professionals


Inquiring into inquiries

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 23 September 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:715

Before starting an inquiry be sure that it is needed and will be run properly

  1. Richard Smith, editor
  1. BMJ

    Education and debate p 752

    Inquiries into crimes and misdemeanours are becoming a way of life in Britain's NHS, but a paper we publish today raises serious doubts about the competence and conclusions of one of them (p 752).1 The time has come to be clear about what inquiries are for, how they should be run, when they should be started, who should be appointed to them, how their quality should be controlled, and how they should be accountable. Otherwise, the politicians' need to be seen to be doing something when a crisis occurs may aggravate rather than alleviate problems and may squander resources.

    Today's paper by Edmund Hey and Iain Chalmers offers a critique on part of the Griffiths inquiry. 1 2 This inquiry was set up by the NHS executive in February 1999 after several parents alleged that their premature babies had been entered into trials of continuous negative extrathoracic pressure (CNEP) without their consent. The inquiry soon expanded its scope to look at, among other things, the use of covert video surveillance to detect Munchausen syndrome by proxy. This surveillance was used by David Southall, the most prominent paediatrician in North Stafforshire, and he attracted considerable hostility from some parents involved in the surveillance.

    The team clearly struggled with its immense and emotionally charged task, but the report concluded that much was amiss and that new forms of governance …

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