Observations BMJ Confidential

David Southall: Determined, honest, and anxious

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i1718 (Published 30 March 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1718


David Southall, 68, is a paediatrician whose career was wrecked when the General Medical Council failed to deal fairly and expeditiously with a series of complaints made against him by parents. After a long legal battle he was eventually cleared, but the GMC’s reputation has never fully recovered. His clinical work, using covert video surveillance, had shown parents deliberately injuring their children, triggering a vitriolic campaign against him that lasted 20 years. In the 1990s he worked in the former Yugoslavia treating children who were victims of the war, and on his return he started the charity now known as Maternal and Childhealth Advocacy International (MCAI).

What was your earliest ambition?

To be a doctor or a vet.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

A priest in northern Sri Lanka I met during the armed conflict, who insisted on giving up his only bed for me (a plank of wood), talked with me all night, and showed a compassionate approach to all of those affected by the war. He left a lasting impression.

What was the worst mistake in your career?

Moving to the University of North Staffordshire Hospital from the Royal Brompton Hospital/National Heart and Lung Institute. Many of the senior managers at Staffordshire—with notable exceptions—didn’t have an appropriate perspective on our clinical work into life threatening child abuse and the research into …

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