Laurence Vick
Posted on 17 Feb 2014

Bristol Families' Solicitor on the New Inquiry

Laurence Vick speaks of the families' bravery and what comes next

Laurence was joint lead solicitor to the 300 members of the Bristol Heart Children Action Group at the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry, and currently represents the families who met with Professor Sir Bruce Keogh to discuss the recent failings at the unit. Below he comments on the call for a new investigation, more than a decade after the Kennedy Report.

What the families have achieved through their strength and solidarity is astonishing, and hugely impressive. Sir Bruce Keogh, too, is to be congratulated on this bold move - not only in meeting the families and listening to their stories, but also for taking swift action to call in Sir Ian Kennedy, another trusted figure.

This demonstrates the power of social media, with the family having secured the meeting through Twitter. The move was particularly bold on Sir Bruce's part, given the vilification he received from those fighting the closure recommendation at the Leeds children's heart unit. Cardiac unit reconfiguration, understandably, remains a controversial subject.

One of the problems here is in understanding the data from these units. Is Bristol a safe unit? Despite the Kennedy recommendations of 2001 and 'Learning from Bristol' (the Department of Health's response to the Public Inquiry), it is still difficult to establish which units are safe and which ones have problems. We still don't have morbidity data for the non-fatal failures, and the 13-year delay in sorting out child heart units is a scandal in itself.

What's disturbing at Bristol is that we're receiving cases involving children who died after the introduction of changes in 2013, in response to the deaths of Luke Jenkins and Sean Turner. When this scandal first broke in 2012, you would have thought that the Trust's best policy would have been openness - to admit the failings and address them, rather than trying to keep a lid on it.

So far these failings appear to be on a smaller scale, mercifully, but the parallels with the Bristol scandal of the 90s are striking. You feel guilty drawing attention to this kind of problem because it's obviously worrying for parents of children who've had or may have heart surgery. I'm sure the majority of staff at the unit are dedicated, and work to highest standards. They have been let down however by the failings of those in charge.

The Trust should have taken steps to prevent this from happening again, and it is crucial that the public can feel confident that this is a safe unit. As well as seeking answers to their many questions this, ultimately, has been the aim of the families in pressing for an independent investigation

Read the press coverage of the families' meeting with Sir Bruce Keogh

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