The ethics of the Bristol Heart Enquiry

Essay by sweetwarriorUniversity, Bachelor's September 2006

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The interesting point about the Bristol case, was that the original whistleblower, Professor Stephen Bolsin, who tried to gain consensus from within, was seen as causing trouble and effectively struck off the register in the UK by his professional colleagues. He was forced to leave the UK and work abroad in Australia. It was there that he went public, supporting the families who were concerned, following a public inquiry that subsequently exposed wrong-doing and poor clinical governance at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. The two surgeons at the centre of the Bristol case were found guilty, one was struck-off - Dr Wishart and the other Dr Dhasmana was fired and banned from practicing certain surgical procedures on babies for three years. The Hospital was found to have failed their patients and the United Bristol Healthcare Trust's chief executive John Roylance's career was in jeopardy. The enquiry was one of the longest in medical history, costing around $2.2m.

The enquiry covered a period of seven years between 1988 and 1995.

The much reported media case of child deaths during heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary shows how a doctor may feel professionally and ethically obligated to raise concerns, yet suffer retaliation in the face of the 1995 requirement to report malpractice. The doctor exercised all channels before making his concerns known. He did not choose to go to the press or seek to intentionally harm his colleagues. Nevertheless, he was thought to have contravened his contractual duty of confidentiality and was forced to resign. An exhaustive official enquiry continued into the year 2000.

Doctors can get struck off the register only for 'serious professional misconduct', and criticising a colleague clearly rated as such a serious crime, could result in loss of livelihood and reputation. It is a question of loyalty...