Child Abuse Case Doctor Withdraws
From New Work
By: TANYA THOMPSON
The doctor at the centre of a controversial child abuse case which resulted in a young boy
being placed in care, is the subject of three inquiries and has withdrawn from new child
Professor David Southall, whose evidence triggered the registration of the child by social
services, is being investigated by the General Medical Council.
North Staffordshire Hospital is examining claims surrounding the diagnosis of Munchausen
syndrome by proxy, a mental condition which leads parents, mostly mothers, to induce or
fabricate illness in their own children.
The childs family they recently moved from Scotland to the north of England
believe they were being unwittingly tested for the condition when their son was
referred for treatment to Prof Southall at the hospital in Stoke-on-Trent.
Despite her vehement denials, the childs mother, who cannot be named for legal
reasons, was accused of having MSBP.
The parents claim they were denied the right to challenge medical opinion which resulted
in their 11-year-old son being placed in local authority care.
A spokeswoman for North Staffordshire Hospital NHS Trust said that it was investigating
"a number of potentially serious albeit unsubstantiated allegations" concerning
child protection issues at the hospital.
The complaints relate to Prof Southalls work on MSBP and the use of secret
surveillance cameras to detect cases of suspected child abuse.
Peter Blythin, the executive director of nursing and quality for the hospital, confirmed
that Prof Southall had agreed not to undertake any new child protection work during the
period of investigation.
In a letter to one of the mothers who lodged the complaint, Mr Blythin said the inquiry
A multi-agency review including the hospital, police and social services, into the
complaints about covert video surveillance and child protection work conducted by Prof
The examination of employment issues.
A review of the quality and validity of Prof Southalls work, to be carried out by
the NHS Executive West Midlands office.
The spokeswoman said: "Representatives of the North Staffordshire Hospital have met
promptly with the complainant to discuss the allegations and are continuing to investigate
Prof Southall is also being investigated for his involvement in trials of a new ventilator
at the hospital between 1989 and 1993. During the trials, 28 premature babies died and 15
were brain damaged.
The Department of Health and the GMC launched separate investigations in February after
parents alleged they had not given their consent for their babies to take part in the
experiment. One mother claimed she had been fooled by doctors, while another said she was
horrified after learning of the experimental treatment.
However, North Staffordshire Hospital has consistently denied that the parents involved
had not been informed about the nature of the tests.
Prof Southall, a consultant paediatrician who has worked at the hospital for ten years,
has become a major figure in the child abuse debate which has raged on both sides of the
Atlantic for 20 years. He pioneered the use of secret surveillance cameras to record the
activities of parents suspected of abusing their children.
Critics have attacked his methods of gaining evidence, accusing him of everything from
overdiagnosis to vindictiveness. His supporters, however, claim he has saved dozens of
children from potentially life-threatening abuse.
The paediatricians interest in MSBP evolved through two decades of research into cot
death or sudden infant death syndrome. He was made and OBE earlier this year for services
to child care in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A spokesman for the GMC said all allegations would be investigated thoroughly and the
inquiry was continuing. He said: "We are looking at information about Prof
Southalls practice. If his activities are a danger to patients we will act. We are
looking at a very complex inquiry into a very difficult area of practice."