Medical council fails to act over breaches of confidentialityBMJ 2001; 322 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7283.386/b (Published 17 February 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:386
All rapid responses
Annabel Ferriman talks of two upheld complaints by the Broadcasting
Standards Commission1 (BSC) regarding child abuse and then admits that one
of the programmes was actually nothing to do with child abuse. She
probably makes this connection because the second programme was about the
work of Professor Southall and his use of Continuous Negative
Extrathoracic Pressure Ventilation (CNEP) and the said professor attempts
to label anyone who complains about his work, as a child abuser and part
of the perceived witchhunt against him. However, much as Professor
Southall himself tries to link the two complaints in an attempt to
discredit the complaint regarding research at the North Staffordshire
Hospital and the use of CNEP the two issues are quite separate and the
there is no combined, orchestrated campaign "to discredit, humiliate and
punish" him. Our complaint regarding CNEP has instigated major changes in
the governance of research, the gaining of informed consent and the
implementation of unproven techniques as a standard therapy. I hardly
think we would have achieved this or been given any credibility if we were
simply part of a hate campaign against one individual doctor.
The truth is, as Ms.Ferriman almost unwillingly points out, was that
one of the said programmes was discussing the use of CNEP in the treatment
of bronchiolitis. The use of CNEP in this way is now suspended pending the
outcome of a retrospective analysis as ordered by a Governmental review
into research at North Staffordshire2. One of the outcome measures of this
review, and I feel I can speak with absolute certainty on this issue as I
am the parent representative on the steering committee for this study, is
whether or not CNEP is a cause of brain injury and resulting disability.
Professor Southall was also advised by the Communications Manager of
his Trust not to take part in this interview because he was going to be
asked specifically about the use of CNEP in the treatment of
bronchiolitis. The Communications Manager obviously realised that a
parents aspect would be used (the personal touch is usual with most media
coverage) and that this could compromise Southalls position and be
detrimental to him. Professor Southall ignored this advise and therefore
knowingly placed himself in that position and thus should face the
Furthermore, many children become "extremely ill [and receive care]
in an intensive care unit" each year and only a small proportion of those
go on to have a subsequent learning disability as the child in the
programme did. Add to this is the fact the child had respiratory problems
(diagnosed as bronchiolitis) and it reduces the likelihood of the learning
disability being attributable to the disease. She did not have this
learning disability prior to her time in CNEP so it is natural to assume
that CNEP could have played a part.
What I find most difficult to comprehend is, the BSC is, presumably,
made up of members who are not medically trained and yet they have made a
decision based on clinical technicalities and a doctors faith in a
treatment that has no evidence base.
Obviously, the BSC is still deluded into thinking that a doctors word
must be gospel and can not be questioned and we all know the perils of
that attitude !
We have already used this forum to point out that patients are often
forced into seeking media coverage because of the unavailing complaints
procedure and the code of silence amongst the medical profession3.
No doubt this judgement will be useful to doctors as it will be
another way of preventing the public from discovering just how incompetent
some of them are. If it had not been for "angry" members of the public
using the media to highlight bad practice, all of which was common
knowledge amongst the medical profession, then Doctors Shipman, Ledward,
Neale, Wisheart etc. would all still be free to practice.
Now there's a sobering thought !
1. Ferriman A. Doctors Find an Ally. BMJ 2001;322:438 (17 February)
2. NHS Executive West Midlands Regional Office. Report of a review of
the research framework in North Staffordshire Hospital NHS Trust (
Griffiths report). Leeds: NHS Executive, 2000.
Competing interests: No competing interests