Intended for healthcare professionals


Southall is cleared by GMC but faces new charges

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 11 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:601
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. London

    Professor David Southall, one of Britain's best known paediatricians, has been cleared by the General Medical Council of conducting neonatal research without proper consent but still faces GMC hearings relating to two separate investigations.

    The GMC's preliminary proceedings committee found no grounds to pursue complaints that Professor Southall had acted without consent, or had forged patients' signatures, when conducting research on a new type of ventilator at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire in Stoke on Trent between 1990 and 1993. But the committee referred a second complaint to the council's professional conduct committee, which already plans to hear another complaint against Professor Southall this summer. The GMC would not give details on the outstanding complaints.

    The research, which was scrutinised by the GMC, was designed to assess whether continuous negative extrathoracic pressure (CNEP) ventilation could reduce the need for, and problems associated with, tracheal intubation and positive pressure ventilation.

    The first GMC complaint arose four years after the trial's end. Carl and Deborah Henshall, of Clayton, North Staffordshire, claim they had never given consent to the involvement of their daughter, a child with neurological damage, in the CNEP trial. The GMC refuses to say how many other complaints it has received from parents whose children were involved in the CNEP trial.

    Professor Southall said he could not comment on the outstanding GMC cases, which relate to his child protection work, but he said that in the case of the CNEP research a group of individuals “latched on to the concerns of a vulnerable group of parents whose babies had either died or become damaged as a result of premature birth.”

    There was incontrovertible evidence that at least two members of a campaign group “helped grieving parents make complaints that could not be ignored,” he said.

    Professor Southall, who attracted national press coverage in 1997 when it emerged he had secretly videotaped parents in the paediatric ward, says he is the subject of a campaign to discredit him by a group of parents accused of child abuse. Pressure groups such as Mothers Against Munchausen by Proxy Allegations accuse him of assuming child abuse as a default diagnosis.

    The GMC investigated and rejected complaints about forged signatures and lack of informed consent in the CNEP trial two years ago, but it reexamined the issue after further complaints. (See p 649)

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