Controversial paediatrician David Southall has been cleared of serious professional misconduct in a case surrounding breathing experiments on premature babies at a Midland hospital.
The General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise panel concluded that Dr Southall had no case to answer. It also exonerated two other doctors in relation to the so-called CNEP breathing tank trials conducted at North Staffordshire Hospital in the early 1990s.
The research involved placing premature babies into low pressure incubators so they could breathe unaided. Legal representatives for Dr Southall, Dr Andrew Spencer and Dr Martin Samuels, successfully argued for the case to be dismissed before the doctors were due to give evidence.
All three were accused of failing to ensure appropriate procedures were in place to obtain informed parental consent for participation in the trial.
Dr Southall was not present to hear the decision from the panel sitting in Manchester as he is working on an international development project in The Gambia. Stoke couple Carl and Deborah Henshall had campaigned since 1996 to bring the hearing before the GMC, which commenced in May.
In December 2005 the Court of Appeal ruled the GMC should review its decision to initially reject their complaints against the three doctors.
Their two baby daughters, Stacey and Sofie, were placed into CNEP tanks at North Staffordshire Hospital in February and December of 1992. Stacey died after two days, while Sofie survived but was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The couple alleged they did not give properly informed consent to medics for their girls to be placed in the tanks.
Following the ruling the Henshalls criticised the procedures of the panel as “flawed” and “one-sided” and having “no place in the modern world”.
They vowed they would see a judicial review of the decision and repeated their calls for a public inquiry. In April, Dr Southall won his legal battle to overturn his immediate suspension from working as a doctor after being struck off the medical register in a separate case.