December 23, 2003



An Mp today called on the General Medical Council to speed up its investigation into a string of complaints brought by North Staffordshire parents over controversial hospital research carried out more than 10 years ago.

Newcastle's Paul Farrelly wants the allegations faced by internationally-acclaimed paediatrician Professor David Southall to be heard on the same day as a hearing into a separate action being taken against him.

The Labour MP stepped in after it emerged a date has been fixed in June for the case of Sally Clark - the Wilmslow lawyer jailed for killing her two baby sons but then freed in January after having the conviction quashed - to go before the GMC's high-powered Professional Conduct Committee, which has the power to strike off doctors. While the Sally Clark appeal was being prepared, Prof Southall is said to have contacted the Crown Prosecution Service with an opinion about the case.

Mr Farrelly is working on behalf of parents whose complaints relate to the so-called CNEP research led in the early 1990s by the University Hospital of North Staffordshire professor.

They claim babies died or were left brain damaged by the technique which involved lowering pressure inside specialist CNEP tanks to help premature infants breathe without needing ventilation.

The allegations have been denied by the doctors and the hospital - but despite being lodged more than five years ago, they are still being screened to see if they can form the basis of a full disciplinary hearing.

Mr Farrelly said: "Without prejudicing the Clark case, its outcome could result in the CNEP cases never getting a full public hearing by the GMC. That would prevent major questions surrounding the CNEP study being explored and answered in public."

Aside from CNEP, Professor Southall - who was cleared by a hospital inquiry of all wrong-doing in his clinical practice - now has to answer a total of eight complaints of alleged misdiagnosis of child abuse at the GMC conduct committee.

Deborah Henshall, of Clayton whose brain-damaged daughter Sofie underwent CNEP as a baby, said: "Until now only bits and pieces of this complex and deeply-worrying issue have been investigated behind closed doors."

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