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Baby tests inquiry re-opens.

Byline: Sophie Blakemore

An inquiry into experiments carried out at a Midland hospital which brought the professional conduct of two top doctors into question has been re-opened.

Following complaints from parents, investigations into baby trials which took place at the North Staffordshire Hospital, were re-launched yesterday.

Prof David Southall and Dr Andrew Spencer, the hospital's former director of child health, were cleared last year of allegations of gross misconduct for their involvement in the controversial experiments.

Parents' groups claim the tests led to babies becoming brain damaged, after being placed in ventilation tanks to relieve breathing difficulties during the 1990s.

Although the General Medical Council threw out the allegations, it has now agreed to review the decision after renewed complaints from the parents of two children involved in the trials.

Carl and Debbie Henshall claim their daughter Stacey died after the tests and Sofie, now nine, was left brain damaged.

In a letter from the GMC, Mr and Mrs Henshall, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, in North Staffordshire, were told their complaint would be reviewed in detail and they would discover the outcome early next week.

The letter thanked the couple for discussing their complaints against Prof Southall and Dr Spencer.

It adds: 'I will arrange for our handling of your complaint to be reviewed in detail.' Mr Henshall said: 'We are delighted that the chief executive of the GMC has taken the matter into his own hands and will look at it again.

'If all our evidence on this research trial is properly assessed, they will have no alternative but to refer it to a full disciplinary enquiry, which will be held in public.'

A total of 122 children were treated in the incubators called Continuous Negative Extrathoracic Pressure, or CNEP, ventilators.

The experimental tanks used decompression chambers to reduce air pressure around a baby's lungs, allowing the child to breathe unaided.

However, parents claimed children used in the experiments between 1989 and 1993 were being used as guinea pigs, during which 28 babies died and another 15 suffered brain damage.

Prof Southall was cleared following a pounds 750,000 investigation into his work at the hospital in Stoke-on-Trent.

An earlier NHS executive investigation criticised the professor for failing to supervise properly the research or ensure it was doing what it set out to do.

But the inquiry held by North Staffordshire Hospital NHS Trust found no case to answer in respect of professional misconduct or incompetence and he was reinstated in October last year.

Prof Southall had also faced widespread anger over the use of covert video evidence to monitor people suspected of child abuse.


Debbie and Carl Henshall; Prof David Southall
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 3, 2002
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