Reprinted from The Scotsman Newspaper, July 12, 1999                                                                                         

Child Abuse Case Doctor Withdraws From New Work


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child abuse case which resulted in a young boy being placed in care, is the subject of three inquiries and has withdrawn from new child protection work.

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 child’s 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 child’s 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 Southall’s 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 would involve:

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 Southall.

The examination of employment issues.

A review of the quality and validity of Prof Southall’s 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 her concerns."

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 paediatrician’s 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 Southall’s 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."

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