[See: Shaken Baby Syndrome, Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy]
Controversial doctor reinstated
Friday, 12 October, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1596263.stm
A doctor who was suspended over the use of a controversial ventilator for premature babies has been reinstated.
Professor David Southall was one of two consultants who pioneered the use of Continuous Negative Extrathoracic Pressure (CNEP) ventilators at the North Staffordshire hospital in Stoke-on-Trent.
He has been cleared of professional misconduct, and after a period of reskilling, could be back on hospital's paediatric intensive care ward by the new year.
Families have condemned the inquiry's verdict.The inquiry began in January 1999 after a number of serious allegations about child protection and research were made against Professor Southall.
He and a colleague, Dr Martin Samuels, were suspended on full pay while an inquiry costing three quarters of a million pound was carried out.
Dr Samuels was cleared of professional misconduct and reinstated in April this year.
Parents were concerned the use of the CNEP ventilators for premature babies could lead to death or brain damage. The practice which has now abandoned in the UK.
Parents claimed they did not give consent to their children taking part and that their signatures were forged.
Following Professor Southall's reinstatement, one couple told the BBC the inquiry had been a whitewash: "Would you expect a trust to investigate themselves and find themselves guilty? Not really."
Professor Southall also attracted controversy over his work on the use of secret video cameras to monitor parents suspected of child abuse.
But he is credited with important research into cot death, which over-turned findings that the problem was due to the gaps in babies' breathing while they sleep.Dr Pat Chipping, medical director for North Staffordshire Hospital NHS Trust, said independent experts had found no evidence of inappropriate diagnosis.
"They found he always acted in a way that promoted the best interests of children under his care and that he took decisions in collaboration with colleagues."
Dr Chipping added: "In the controversial area of covert video surveillance, there is no evidence of its inappropriate use.
"It was always undertaken following full investigation and when all other diagnostic approaches had been used."
Dr Chipping said parental concern that CNEP may have lead to death or brain damage cannot currently be "substantiated".
A follow up audit on the safety of the procedure is taking place.
She said no evidence could be found that consent forms had been forged, and added it was clear Professor Southall was "sensitive" of the need to obtain consent in research on babies and children.
And she said lessons had been learned in key areas including the recording of information relating to child protection issues and the management of new techniques such as video surveillance.
Child abuse study
The eight-year study into child abuse attacks, carried out by Professor Southall from 1986, found that youngsters aged between two months and 44 months were being deliberately injured in cruel and sadistic attacks by their parents or step parents while in hospital.
Twenty-three parents or step-parents of the 39 children identified as at risk by doctors, social workers and psychiatrists, were found to be suffering from the attention-seeking disorder Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy.
The condition leads parents to harm their children in a bid to create situations where they are the centre of attention.
Covert filming led to a total of 33 parents or step-parents being prosecuted.
Dr Harvey Markevitch, a spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health which provided two of the advisors to the inquiry, said: "The college is very pleased that all of these allegations have been found to be unfounded.
"Professor Southall is a very important clinician and researcher."
He condemned the NHS complaints system as inappropriate for all sides involved.
He called for an inter-agency panel made up of social services, health and education experts to look at cases involving alleged child abuse.
GMC probes Munchausen's doctor
Professor David Southall is facing a GMC investigation after complaints by at least six parents dating back at least seven years.
Some say their children were taken into care after they were wrongly diagnosed with Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy.
Adults with the condition may induce or exaggerate illness in children to attract attention to themselves.
Professor Southall is a consultant paediatrician based at the North Staffordshire Hospital at Stoke on Trent.
He is one of the country's main experts on Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, also known as Fabricated or Induced Illness.
The GMC is set to consider two complaints against Professor Southall in the summer.
A separate complaint relating to research on newborn babies was rejected by the council.
The BBC's Andrew Hosken has spoken to four women who have complained to the General Medical Council that Professor Southall wrongly diagnosed abuse in their cases.
Some of the parents say their children were wrongly taken into care as a result of Professor Southall's diagnoses.
They say other doctors' opinions contradicted his diagnosis of child abuse.
The first allegations are expected to be considered by the GMC in the summer.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Professor Southall was involved in a controversial study where covert video surveillance to detect child abuse.
More than 30 women were taken to court as a result.
But some critics were concerned there was the possibility that children could be exposed to abuse as a result - in one case, a mother was filmed breaking her child's arm.
Professor Southall said the GMC had taken seven years to come to a final decision on allegations made about his work.
He added: "A group of malicious individuals seeking to destroy our child protection work latched on to the concerns of a vulnerable group of parents whose babies had either died or become damaged as a result of premature birth.
"Many of the latter came, over time, to resent and resist the way their concerns were being used in this way."
In a statement, the University Hospital of North Staffordshire Trust said independent experts who had examined Professor Southall's child protection work had found he had: "always acted in a way that promoted the best interests of children in his care and he took decisions in collaboration with colleagues from other agencies.
"They did not find evidence of inappropriate diagnosis."
The trust added that other investigations completed to date have found no evidence to support claims of incompetence or serious professional incompetence.
The General Medical Council said its preliminary procedures committee had considered two complaints related to Professor Southall.
A spokeswoman said: "After examination of the evidence, they have decided not to proceed with one of the cases.
"The other has been referred to the professional conduct committee (PCC).
"The PCC is considering a separate matter relating to Professor Southall in the summer."
The PCC has the power to strike doctors off the medical register.
One mother, who didn't want to be named, who has complained to the GMC, told the BBC: "It didn't only destroy me, it destroyed a lot of other people in the process."
Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics said: "There is something about the way a few people amongst paediatricians working in child protection have become almost obsessive, and are far too willing to make a diagnosis of child abuse.
"It should be a diagnosis of last resort. But for too many paediatricians, its become a diagnosis of almost first resort."
Conservative Health spokesman Earl Howe called for a public inquiry into the issue of Munchausen's diagnoses.
He told the BBC: "Only a public inquiry will sort the matter out."