Get docs a real watchdog

May 15, 2005

A top human-rights lawyer has called for the General Medical Council to be scrapped after it cleared a doctor who played a key role in an infamous child sex abuse scandal of any wrongdoing.Consultant paediatrician Camille de San Lazaro was involved in investigating allegations that children were sexually abused at a Newcastle nursery.She later gave evidence to the now- discredited Abuse in Early Years inquiry set up by Newcastle City Council in 1998 which wrongly claimed two nursery nurses were responsible for the abuse of youngsters.At a subsequent libel trial, which resulted in compensation payments of £200,000 being made to nurses Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie, the doctor admitted her accounts of abuse had been “overstated, exaggerated and emotive”.That admission led the judge hearing the libel case, Mr Justice Eady, to conclude she was “unbalanced, obsessive and lacking in judgment”.However, Dr San Lazaro, after appearing before the GMC on serious misconduct charges over her role in the scandal, was let off.Let-offs like that have undermined confidence in the GMC and it should now be scrapped, according to lawyer Vera Baird, also MP for Redcar and Cleveland.She said: “There needs to be a truly independent body scrutinising doctors because the public has no faith in the GMC.”She has been let off by her peers despite the comments of the judge. This shows the GMC have not been impartial in this case.”The problem with the GMC is that you have doctors deciding what happens to other doctors. This means they are likely to sympathise with the doctor’s point of view over that of the public because they are contemporaries of theirs.”We already have an independent police complaints authority and there is soon to be an independent solicitors’ body, so there is absolutely no reason why we can’t have the same for medicine.”The GMC has already been slammed by senior judge Janet Smith following her inquiry into doctor Harold Shipman’s murder rampage. Dame Janet recommended that the Government strip it of its right to judge medical misconduct.The council failed to act on suspicions over Shipman, Britain’s most prolific serial killer.Dr San Lazaro, based at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, was hauled in front of the GMC three weeks ago.The council ruled that although some of her work was “inappropriate, irresponsible and unprofessional” her conduct was not serious enough for her to be struck off or have restrictions placed on her work.In her defence, it was claimed that Lazaro was overworked and was at one stage involved in four large-scale inquiries into alleged child abuse simultaneously.In her evidence, she said: “I was clearly coming near to breaking point in terms of my ability to provide a service as was required.”The GMC was not prepared to comment.Sunday Sun: Champion of the NorthLibel trial shredded experts’ reputationsThe libel case that followed the flawed Shieldfield inquiry delivered a damning verdict that many believe shattered the credibility of not only Camille de San Lazaro but also the review team appointed by Newcastle City Council.The team was made up of Northumbria University social work lecturer Richard Barker, independent social worker Judith Jones, psychologist Jacqui Saradjian and retired social services chief Roy Wardell.They shared £360,000 between them for their work on the inquiry into the alleged child abuse.Nursery nurses Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie then successfully sued Newcastle City Council for libel for comments made in the report it had commissioned.In his ruling in the 2002 libel case Mr Justice Eady said the four-strong team had been influenced by Lazaro and “clearly fell under her spell”.Lazaro, who still works at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary as a consultant paediatrician and senior lecturer in paediatric forensic medicine, was supposed to have been a witness of fact rather than an expert witness in the Shieldfield inquiry.She examined 53 children from the Shieldfield nursery for suspected sexual abuse. Mr Justice Eady said: “The truth is that where physical findings were negative or equivocal Lazaro was prepared to make up the deficiencies by throwing objectivity and scientific rigour to the winds in a highly emotional misrepresentation of the facts.”Lazaro admitted in the witness box that she had “deliberately overstated and exaggerated her findings” when making reports to the criminal injuries compensation board for children seeking compensation for sex abuse, the judge said.The judge said he did not believe Dr San Lazaro had set out “mischievously to misrepresent everything”. Rather, she was “unbalanced, obsessive, and lacking in judgment”.Under cross-examination in the libel trial Lazaro admitted her accounts of abuse had been “overstated, exaggerated and emotive”.The hearing also heard that she had written that drugs had “almost certainly” been involved in abuse. In the 2002 libel trial, Mr Justice Eady said to her: “You had no proper basis to say that to them, did you?” She replied: “I agree.” The GMC found that during some interviews with children who were alleged to have been abused, the doctor’s actions were inappropriate, irresponsible and unprofessional, but did not “cross the threshold” into serious professional misconduct. Dr San Lazaro received an OBE in 1999 for services in the care of sexually abused children.

IC Newcastle

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