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Report to rap hospital over incubator risk.

A MIDLAND hospital will be accused of misleading parents over the risk of experimental baby incubators in a damning new report, theSunday Mercury can reveal.

North Staffordshire Hospital ran a trial of low-pressure ventilators on premature babies from 1989 to 1993.

However, 28 children died and a further 15 suffered brain damage after receiving treatment in the new tanks - a figure 33 per cent higher than normal.

Now a report by health minister Lord Hunt looks set to condemn the hospital for failing to tell parents of the research risks.

And, in an unconnected part of the probe, the hospital will also come under fire for secretly filming relatives suspected of child abuse.

The covert hospital recordings led to a number of prosecutions - but many family members claimed they were falsely accused.

North Staffordshire Hospital, at Stoke-on-Trent, is currently at the centre of four investigations:

Lord Hunt's year long-probe has examined the incubator and secret filming issues and is due to report next week.

The General Medical Council is investigating complaints from parents who claim they were harassed by doctors - and wrongly accused of child abuse.

Staffordshire Police are probing allegations parents' signatures were forged on incubator consent forms.

And North Staffordshire Hospital is conducting its own internal inquiry and has suspended two doctors.

Lord Hunt's report has been kept a closely-guarded secret but an insider told the Sunday Mercury: 'North Staffordshire Hospital and its doctors will be heavily criticised.

'The report will say parents were misled because they were never given enough information about the incubator trials and the hospital will also be criticised for elements of the secret filming.

'But, as well as criticising mistakes made in the past, the report will highlight a positive way forward.

'Recommendations will include the launch of an independent hospital research monitoring group, an independent complaints committee and new restrictions on the use of secret cameras.'

Trials of Continuous Negative Extrathoracic Pressure (CNEP) ventilators began at the hospital in 1989.

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

However, of the 122 children treated by CNEP over four years 28 died and 15 suffered brain damage.

Yet from a control group of 122 babies using traditional incubators, 22 died and 10 suffered brain damage.

Devastated parents claim the hospital never told them the incubators were part of a trial - or about the higher death and injury rate. One family, the Henshalls, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, lost a baby daughter during the CNEP trials, and another baby suffered brain damage. Mum Debbie, who founded the CNEP family action group, claims parents have faced a wall of silence.

Police are also conducting their own probe into allegations signatures on some parental consent forms for the trials were forged.

In 1997, it was revealed the hospital had also used secret filming to target people suspected of child abuse.

The controversial recordings, which took place in paediatric units, led to a number of convictions. However, a families' campaign group claims many others were wrongly accused.

The hospital's top paediatrician Professor David Southall and colleague Dr Martin Samuels were suspended by the hospital last December but a hospital spokesman said: 'These were not disciplinary actions.

'We are investigating a number of potentially serious, albeit unsubstantiated, allegations concerning child protection and research issues.

'Two consultant paediatricians were suspended from their duties but we would emphasise these suspensions were not a disciplinary action - and in no way should they prejudice the outcome of the investigations.'

A Staffordshire Police spokesman said: 'We have received complaints alleging signatures were forged on hospital consent forms.

'However, we are at a very early stage of a preliminary enquiry.

'We will be examining Lord Hunt's report before deciding on any further investigation.'

Dr Southall and Dr Samuels were unavailable for comment last night.
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Article Details
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Author:Larner, Tony
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Apr 9, 2000
Words:639
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