Sunday, 7 April 2013

The good Doctor.

I was listening to a poignant interview on the radio this morning (Saturday – I delayed a day to check my facts) with Professor Stephen Bolsin, who now lives and works in Australia.



Bolsin, as a newly appointed consultant anaesthetist began work at the Children’s Cardiac unit at Bristol Royal Infirmary in 1989. He soon realised that the outcomes of operations weren’t as good as at other hospitals where he had worked – too many children were dying. He spent some 6 years collecting data to prove it and trying to persuade the surgeons or the hospital that something was wrong.

It took the press and the parents for the scandal to break and even then it was a long battle. By the end of it all, the death rate had fallen from 30% to 5%.

His actions brought about the regular collection of data on patient outcomes and surgeons performances. Indirectly that led to the exposure of Mid Staffs and the fight over Leeds that is blowing up now.

It was sad because:

1) He paid a heavy personal price – he lost his job, couldn’t find work again in the UK and ended up moving his family to Australia, where he now works. It’s our loss and their gain.

He has been described as the ‘most hated Doctor in Britain’, and friends have told him how unpopular he remains within the medical community, 20 years on.

2) Nothing much changed. Oh, I know we now have the collection and comparing of data, but in all that time (20 years) only one unit closed and its only now that an attempt is being made to rationalise the number of units. Even that isn’t the right answer – it’s the money saving answer.

Much of the data is still private, and as we saw over Leeds, the new war is about releasing data when it suits them and keeping it private when it doesn’t. It’s also about changing the way you code things, not improving the way you do things. Not enough changed.

I was impressed how the good Doctor had been honoured in Australia, where he is very highly thought of. There are no honours here, not even an honorary degree. Yet so many honours have been given to the managers and administrators of the NHS like ‘Sir’ David Nicholson and ‘Sir’ Bruce Keogh.

A republican rebel like me can’t pull it off but there’s no reason why anyone else reading this Blog couldn’t recommend him for an honour – members of the public can now do so.

It’s a bit pathetic that right now my ‘hall of fame’ is the only British honour he has.

He made a difference and saved lives.


Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

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