Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 371 - 379)

WEDNESDAY 21 JULY 2004

PROFESSOR BRIAN TOFT

  Q371  Chairman: Good morning, Professor Toft. Thank you for coming to talk about your report. We will fire some questions at you, so be as blunt and frank as you like because you are going to be very important in terms of the input you give us. There is a session afterwards and you are very welcome to stay and listen to that as well. Let me start by asking you how you would describe the response of the HFEA to your review and your report.

  Professor Toft: Could I first of all say that the events in my report refer to the events and the circumstances surrounding the regulatory regime and the events at Leeds in July 2002 or prior to 2002, so this—

  Q372  Chairman: Yes, we understand.

  Professor Toft: Okay. I felt the way in which the HFEA responded to my request for information was inappropriate.

  Q373  Chairman: Inappropriate?

  Professor Toft: Inappropriate, absolutely.

  Q374  Chairman: You would not like to go further than that?

  Professor Toft: Yes, if you wish.

  Q375  Chairman: Yes, please.

  Professor Toft: When I first wrote to them and asked them for some preliminary information—I am not a medical person, I am a specialist in systems' failure—they said they could not answer within three weeks. I felt some of these questions were really quite perfunctory and should have been answered much faster than that. Secondly, Dame Ruth Deech, who was the chairman of the HFEA, was minded not to attend my inquiry, as, indeed, was Suzanne McCarthy, chief executive for four years. Effectively, both of these people refused to attend. Not only that, when I told them the date on which I was going to have my inquiry, they wanted to have an audit of the documents relating to patients at Leeds on the same day. The Secretary of State for Health and also the Chief Medical Officer are very keen to get people to be proactive and to come forward with information regarding adverse incidents; I did not think that having an audit on the very day I was having my inquiry was perhaps the way in which to engage. There are several other things which I could go on about but I think that is sufficient.

  Q376  Chairman: What happened then? You did the report. Did they come back at you again with any call for other information?

  Professor Toft: Indeed, I did come back asking for other information. I asked for some information in September 2002; I eventually got the information in March 2003. That was thanks to the new chief executive, Angela McNab, who had been appointed by that time. She got some of her people to do the research and I got the information I required on adverse incidents, but it had taken quite a while to get that and it did require me to go back to them and to ask them a second time. Of course, the second time I did actually get the information.

  Q377  Chairman: Since the publication of your report, has there been any meeting with them, a conversation?

  Professor Toft: Absolutely. I went and saw them a few months ago and asked them how they had engaged with my recommendations and I am given to understand, from their response and their website and from a personal conversation with the chief executive, that they have implemented at least 85% of my recommendations and all the rest are ongoing.

  Q378  Dr Turner: Could you remind us, who commissioned you?

  Professor Toft: The Chief Medical Officer.

  Q379  Chairman: How would you describe the way the HFEA is viewed amongst health professionals? You must talk amongst people of your standing elsewhere in the country, and you have obviously had an experience, how do other professionals relate to that experience? Do they agree with your opinion?

  Professor Toft: As far as I am aware they do. Certainly prior to the new chief executive taking over it was quite difficult to get anything out of them, but I think that was more to do with this culture of secrecy that had created itself over the years. I think people were very frightened or certainly very apprehensive about saying anything about anything to somebody outside of the organisation.

  Chairman: We will come back to your experience later on.


 
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