It is very dangerous to touch on the subject of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and Munchausen-by-proxy. A very powerful vigilante group patrols the web seeking out postings from bloggers on the subject. They are in denial over the possibility that a parent could harm a child. So I was surprised to see that two pediatricians had raised their heads above the parapet and commented on the subject in the BMJ. The only time I deigned to comment on the subject I was subject to vile invective which can still be traced on Google.
This is what Leonard Williams wrote:
Professor David Southall must have been investigated more than any other doctor. He has appeared before the General Medical Council on five separate charges, and has been investigated by the police, his trust, and his strategic health authority. He has been cleared at every stage. He has been compared to Dr Mengele in parliament and vilified by the media, and a website is devoted to his downfall. Yet he is highly respected by pediatricians throughout the world. How is this possible?
His reputation was forged through his work on SIDS. His investigations led him to believe that some infants were being smothered, which he confirmed by covert video surveillance. His team videoes 30 mothers smothering their babies. Each episode was interrupted and no baby was harmed. Most important of all, these babies had 41 older siblings, of whom 12 had died suddenly with 11 of them being certified as SIDS. It is clear that in retrospect that they were likely to have been killed.
A vigilante group began to co-ordinate assistance for parents charged with abuse and to orchestrate multiple complaints to the GMC and other authorities, Professor Southall was prevented from working while these many investigations took place.
Even more importantly, the use of covert video surveillance was almost completely stopped. But there is no reason to believe that the smothering has ceased. Southall's analysis of the siblings showed that smothering is highly dangerous, but the actions of the GMC and other authorities have prevented use of a means of detection. One is left to wonder, how many babies have died and will die because of these actions.Derek Summerfield has written:
As an observer of the story of Professor Southall and the General Medical Council over many years, I entirely endorse Bridson’s reflections. GMC decisions at Southall’s hearings have seemed so perverse and devoid of natural justice that each time I have predicted that they would be overturned at a higher level, and they have been.
I recall that one of the GMC's judgments described Southall of having a deep-seated "attitudinal problem", but the GMC seems to have the attitudinal problem. The judgments in Southall's favor at the Court of Appeal and the like attest to the GMC's persistently prejudiced and unprofessional behavior towards him. I believe that Southall has grounds to bring a case against the GMC for a persistent breach of the duty of care it has towards him, as it has to all UK doctors.
My comment on this story is less to do with the actual story, since I am no expert on its content. What I object to is unfairness. I think that the GMC is a corrupt institution. It was once a regulatory body that kept a register of doctors and struck doctors off the register for behaving inappropriately, like performing abortions, having affairs with patients, getting into trouble with the law etc. Doctors funded it with a registration fee of £5 and doctors were judge and jury. Today doctors still fund it with an annual retention fee of over £400, but they no longer act as judge and jury - lay people form a majority on fitness-to-practise 'courts'. It has taken on a lot of extra work for the government (for which the taxpayer pays nothing) and retired doctors are expected to relinquishing their license to practise. They can't even write up a script for acyclovir for a granddaughter with a cold sore.
The GMC having been over-ruled by the Court of appeal over both Meadows and Southall, it seems that they are subject to influence by lay-pressure groups in a way that is unfair. There is a lot of unfairness about who has access to information and how the press presents it. Keep watching the Levenson Inquiry.