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26 MAY 2009

Paediatrician Southall loses appeal over GMC ban

Paediatrician David Southall has lost his High Court appeal to have the decision to strike him off the medical register for serious professional misconduct overturned.

The General Medical Council ruled in 2007 that Dr Southall abused his position by falsely accusing a mother of murdering her son by hanging him.

Lawyers for Dr Southall argued that the GMC panel had failed to give "any or adequate weight" to inconsistencies in the mother's evidence, and that they did not understand what child protection work involved.

However in his judgement ruling that the decision to strike the paediatrician off was justified, Mr Justice Blake said: "he was speculating on non-medical matters in an offensive manner entirely inconsistent with the status of an independent expert".

He added that public confidence in child protection expertise would be undermined if "behaviour of the kind under consideration here, when combined with the lack of insight into, or acknowledgement of, its nature and extent, was considered to be compatible with continued registration as a medical practitioner".

Dr Southall accused the grieving mother of drugging and then hanging her ten-year-old son when he interviewed her at the request the child protection team to determine whether her second child should be taken into care.

At the time, the chairman of the fitness-to-practice panel, Jacqueline Mitton, said: "your action in accusing [the mother] of drugging and murdering [her son] by hanging him was inappropriate, added to her distress and was in the circumstances an abuse of your professional position."

The controversial paediatrician was found guilty in 2004 of serious professional misconduct when he wrongly accused the husband of the late Sally Clark of murdering their two children.

In April 2008 doctors attending the annual meeting of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) showed their support for Dr Southall when they passed a motion stating that "the College continues to have grave concerns over the current GMC procedures in child protection."

Some paediatricians are still concerned that the GMC is over-reactive to public opinion and the media.

Speaking on Friday, the organisation Professionals Against Child Abuse (PACA) said it "believes the GMC have acted inappropriately and have been improperly influenced by a skilful and hostile media campaign by parents involved in alleged child protection cases and their advocates. PACA is now concerned that today's result will have further serious and negative effects on the willingness with which doctors will engage in child protection.

"PACA considers that the GMC preliminary assessment procedures have been ignorant of the nature of child protection procedures in the Family Courts and that this case should never have been brought against David Southall; that he has always given honestly held opinions, based on extensive experience in complex child protection cases and solely with the purpose of protecting children has never been questioned.

"The disciplinary actions of the GMC, today supported by the High Court, will be a further deterrent to paediatricians and other health professionals from engagement in child protection work.

"The GMC should act only to encourage doctors to report child protection concerns and engage in child protection work, by making them feel safe from disciplinary actions, unless the doctor has been shown to have acted incompetently or with malice."

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