Intended for healthcare professionals


Southall faces further hearing—on secret medical records

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 19 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:822
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. London

    The paediatrician David Southall is facing a disciplinary hearing at the General Medical Council next month, over charges that his methods “amounted to keeping secret medical records” on two children in his care.

    The hearing, announced by the GMC on Tuesday (17 October), is in addition to one already being considered after a Court of Appeal ruled that the GMC should have investigated a separate complaint made against Professor Southall (BMJ 2005;331: 1426).

    The GMC has now said that it will look into separate accusations that Professor Southall failed to act in the children's best interests and that he did not treat their mothers “in a way which respected their privacy and dignity.”

    The council will also look into allegations that, in preparing a report for a local authority on care proceedings involving another child, Professor Southall “acted in a way which was inappropriate, added to the distress of a bereaved person and was an abuse of his professional position.”

    The hearing came to light after the Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons on 9 October, asking Professor Southall's employer, the University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust, to release thousands of special case files—including videotapes and DVDs—to be added to patients' medical records.

    However, the files compiled by Professor Southall will not be released to patients' families unless they request them, the Department of Health has decided. The health department said that researchers were obliged to contact patients and provide information from clinical studies only if the data contain information that was clinically relevant to the patient. Patients may still request that their special case files be added to their medical records.

    However, it emerged that the files were “likely to be discussed at an imminent GMC hearing into Professor Southall's work,” said the trust. Only then did the GMC announce details of the imminent hearing.

    Mr Hemming said that Professor Southall holds information on “four or five thousand” patients, many of whom are unaware of the existence of the files.

    Mr Hemming said he took up the issue after being contacted by a constituent from his Birmingham Yardley constituency and by other former patients and parents of children treated by Professor Southall.

    The GMC suspended Professor Southall from child protection work for three years in September 2004, after he accused the husband of Sally Clark of murdering their son Christopher on the basis of a television programme he had seen on the case. Mrs Clark had been acquitted of the crime on appeal.

    Professor Southall already faces a GMC investigation into his research on continuous negative extrathoracic pressure ventilation in the early 1990s.

    The hearing announced this week is expected to begin on 13 November. The other hearing has not yet been scheduled.


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