Learning from the sad, sorry saga at Stoke
For three years, two UK paediatricians have had to contend with massive media criticism, much of it fed by a small pressure group. The UK government, through its regional NHS office, set up an enquiry into one aspect of the complaints � related to the ethical committee approval process and the monitoring of clinical trials within their unit.
Its report was critical but has been attacked, both by informed academics and researchers and in a House of Lords debate. In addition, their employer - an NHS trust hospital - set up three enquiry panels, to look at research issues, child protection issues and general disciplinary matters including financial probity. The third of these quickly found that the doctors concerned had behaved meticulously; the other panels met once and twice respectively before deciding there was �a case to answer.� Immediately the doctors were suspended from work. The hospital then examined matters in detail under the auspices of the NHS complaints procedure. The allegations were found to be unsustainable, both doctors being cleared.
During the prolonged process, they were barred from writing or speaking about their ordeal, so were unable to answer even the most outrageous allegations.
In a press release announcing Prof Southall�s reinstatement, the Trust chief executive stated: �No case to answer has been found in respect of professional misconduct or incompetence.�
The editorial below has been contributed by three paediatricians who have been close to the case. They point out many disturbing aspects. We hope it will never happen again, if only because such a prolonged process is likely to prove contrary to article 6.1 of the European Parliament�s Human Rights Act.