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Beyond Bristol: taking responsibility
  1. J Savulescu
  1. Correspondence to:
 Julian Savulescu;

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Important lessons must be learned from the Bristol inquiry

I was disturbed when I first read the following in an October 1998 issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.

In June 1998, the Professional Conduct Committee of the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom concluded the longest running case it has considered [this] century. Three medical practitioners were accused of serious professional misconduct relating to 29 deaths (and four survivors with brain damage) in 53 paediatric cardiac operations undertaken at the Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1988 and 1995. All three denied the charges but, after 65 days of evidence over eight months (costing £2.2 million), all three were found guilty. The doctors concerned are Mr James Wisheart, a paediatric and adult cardiac surgeon and the former Medical Director of the United Bristol Healthcare Trust; Mr Janardan Dhasmana, paediatric and adult cardiac surgeon; and Dr John Roylance, a former radiologist, and Chief Executive of the Trust. The central allegations were that the Chief Executive and the Medical Director allowed to be carried out, and the two paediatric cardiac surgeons carried out, operations on children knowing that the mortality rates for these operations, in the hands of these surgeons, were high. Furthermore, the surgeons were accused of not communicating to the parents the correct risk of death for these operations in their hands.1

Mr Wisheart and Dr Roylance were subsequently struck off the medical register. Mr Dhasmana was disqualified from practising paediatric cardiac surgery for three years. The doctors required police protection as they left the General Medical Council hearing as furious parents shouted “murderer” and “bastard”.2

Why did this occur?

Dr Stephen Bolsin has presented a …

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