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Doctor was “near to breaking point” when she exaggerated abuse

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 12 May 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:1105
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    A consultant paediatrician facing allegations of misconduct in overstating and exaggerating reports of child abuse was running a unit that was grossly understaffed at the time, the General Medical Council heard last week.

    Camille De San Lazaro told the fitness to practice panel in Manchester that at times she had to change bed linen and perform cleaning tasks herself while running a child abuse department at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle in the mid-1990s.

    At one stage she was involved in four large child abuse inquiries at the same time, and she made several pleas to managers over the years about the size of the workload and the need for more staff.

    “I was clearly coming near to breaking point in terms of my ability to provide a service as was required,” she told the panel. “There was gross understaffing. I remember it being nightmarish.”

    She added: “I think I was quite overwhelmed psychologically with the quantity of work. I believe there were often times when I would change linen and clean the unit and fetch supplies such as nappies myself because there was no one else there to do it.”

    Despite her repeated requests for more staff, Dr Lazaro was the only full time doctor in the department, with occasional assistance from a research registrar.

    Dr Lazaro examined 53 children from the Shieldfield nursery in Newcastle in 1993-4 after allegations of sex abuse were made against two nursery nurses, Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie (BMJ 2002;325:235).

    She admits overstating and exaggerating reports to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to back up compensation claims on behalf of children.

    Ms Reed and Mr Lillie were charged with criminal offences but cleared on the direction of the trial judge. Newcastle City Council commissioned an investigation into the abuse, which concluded that the two were culpable.

    They sued for libel, and after a lengthy trial a High Court judge ruled that the abuse had never happened and awarded them £200 000 ($376 000; €294 000) each against the authors of the report, which relied on Dr Lazaro's opinions.

    In his libel judgment Mr Justice Eady said that the authors of the report commissioned by the council “clearly fell under the spell” of Dr Lazaro, who was “unbalanced, obsessive, and lacking in judgment” and had “thrown objectivity and scientific rigour to the wind in a highly emotional misrepresentation of the facts.”

    Dr Lazaro denies “inappropriate, irresponsible, and unprofessional conduct.” The case continues.

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