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4.53 pm

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): I, too, extend my good wishes to everyone for Christmas and hope everyone has a wonderful new year, especially the staff, and especially those in the Members Tea Room, who are marvellous. They serve us all year round and never complain, so I wish them a very happy Christmas.

When the House adjourns, we will all go home tonight to our families. In my house, we are all in excited anticipation as we await the arrival of my mother, who could be described as a cross between Ma from “Bread” and Hyacinth Bucket. At least my mother will be with us for Christmas and we will enjoy her company.

Unfortunately, there are many people in my constituency who will not be spending time with their loved ones over Christmas, and many people who are in particularly difficult situations. That is due to a hospital superbug known as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Let me give the House a little background information. One in nine people who go into hospital contract MRSA, and of those, 13 per cent. die and the remainder can lose limbs or have their lives blighted.

A constituent of mine has with her at home her 83-year-old mother, who is desperately poorly and needs to go into hospital to be cared for. However, the family has been faced with a decision. They have been told, “If your mother goes into hospital, it is almost certain, because of her immuno-suppressed state as a result of her illness, that she will catch a superbug and will not come out again, but if you keep her at home, we can try to do our very best to ensure that she recovers.” My constituent’s mother will therefore spend Christmas being nursed in my constituent’s home, receiving not the full health care that she should be receiving but only the best that can be given to her at home.

As an ex-nurse, I would say that we could take people who are sitting in the Public Gallery to a hospital and ask them how to clean it. It is not brain surgery to know that we need to go back to wet mopping. It is not clever to know that we need to start using anti-bacterial disinfectants and handwashes. We need to wash down lockers and beds. Beds need to cool down. One of the big problems is that Government targets mean that as soon as a patient leaves a bed another patient goes straight into it. It is called hot-bedding—patient out, patient straight back in again. Staphylococcus aureus grows and survives on warmth, so it loves a warm bed. We need to start laundering uniforms on site and to stop staff wearing
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their uniforms to go home. In a previous debate, I mentioned having seen a nurse with a toddler in her arms leaning over a fruit and veg counter picking up produce. Was she going to work or coming home? Where had that uniform been worn, and what bacteria was on it? We need to limit visiting time, as we used to. There must not be free visiting, with anybody walking into hospitals whenever they want to. We should go back to restricted visiting so that a proper cleaning routine can be put into wards, people know who is going in and who is going out, and the number of bugs going into the ward is minimised.

When I spoke to a previous Health Minister about this, particularly about laundering uniforms on site, she said, “We just can’t do it—it’s too expensive.” The Minister is gesticulating wildly at me as if to imply that uniforms are laundered on site, but they are not. Years ago, when I went to work as a nurse, I would go down to the basement, where my uniforms would be hanging up, choose my uniform, go and get changed and go on to the ward. Later on, I would go back down, dump my uniform in the dirty laundry bag, get changed and go home. It was as simple as that, but apparently it is unaffordable.

Some £36 billion has been spent on an NHS computer system called Choose and Book, which was devised to give patients choice. I went into a GP’s practice to watch it working, and I will run hon. Members through the scenario. Patient comes in with inguinal hernia. GP clicks on the computer, which takes ages to get going. GP says to patient, “Right, I can give you four choices of hospital, four dates, and four consultants—which would you like?” Patient says, “Which one would you choose, doctor?” GP replies, “I’d choose Bedford hospital, because your wife’s in her 70s and doesn’t drive, and she could get there bybus.” Patient says, “Okay, doctor, I’ll go to Bedford hospital.” That cost £36 billion.

I could have bought the argument that the system might be working elsewhere, but this week the headline on the front of Pulse, GPs’ in-house trade magazine, was “Exposed: referral system in disarray”. ADr. Marchant talked about the serious distortion that exists in the system because of friction between the Government, with their patient choice agenda, primary care trusts and hospitals, who cannot agree between themselves on how it should be used. Billions of pounds have been wasted on a computer system that is not working, is being distorted, and is having hospitals taken out of it so that patients get no choice at all—and we have people dying of MRSA as it increases year on year.

Andrew Mackinlay: The hon. Lady is entitled to some cross-party support on MRSA. There is no doubt that the Department of Health—particularly the officials, but through them, Ministers—is in denial about the seriousness of MRSA and about what can and should be done. I associate myself with the hon. Lady’s remarks, and tell the Deputy Leader of the House that she is quite correct. The sooner Ministers send down a message that staff will be seriously disciplined if they do not adhere to basic standards, the sooner the carnage will stop.

Mrs. Dorries: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support; that is fantastic.

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I do not know whether hon. Members saw a newspaper article yesterday referring to a possible solution to the problem that I mentioned a second ago—that doctors should not wear ties. That is a gimmick. It is easy to say, “Don’t wear ties to work, doctor, because you’ve got MRSA on your tie.” That takes no cost and no effort. Telling doctors not to wear their ties to work is a complete and utter gimmick.

We do not need gimmicks. We need the Government to look at where the money is being ploughed into the NHS. I know what patients would prefer—they would prefer to come out of hospital alive. My constituent would rather have her mother nursed in hospital. People would like to know that when they go into hospital, they are not putting themselves at greater risk. They want that much more than they want a computer system that does not really give them any choice whatever.

I should like to talk about something else in connection with MRSA, which I discovered just today: the bacteria pass as freely on the air as by touch. Even as a nurse, I thought that they were transferred only by touch, but they are also airborne. Apparently, as many of the bacteria are transferred in the air as from hand to hand. I do not know what the figures are, but I would imagine that it would cost nowhere near£36 billion to fit every hospital in the country with an air filtration system. We have air filtration systems in operating theatres where we do orthopaedic operations. The bacteria are taken out of the air there, so why can we not have filtration systems all over hospitals?

There are a lot of people who would have liked to have their loved ones at home this Christmas but cannot. I, too, have lost someone from MRSA, who went into hospital with a minor heart attack just before Christmas last year and did not come out, and I have two constituents who have lost limbs. This is carnage, and it cannot carry on. This is a debacle. People must go into hospital to be made better, not worse.

I know that that is a sour note to end on, but I should still like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas.

5.2 pm

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): The best Christmas present that I can give hon. Membersis to stick to 10 minutes, so I shall talk aboutChristmas at the end of my speech rather than at the start.

One of the issues that has been raised with me over the past year is the regulation of the medical profession, which is a complex matter. The role of the General Medical Council is to prevent people who are a danger to patients from practising. We also have the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence to back up the GMC. With the GMC losing its medical majority, it sounds as though everything is going the right way. However, all is not well in the sphere of medical regulation. The GMC is effective in preventing doctors from forming intimate relationships with their patients, and it also does a good job when it is clear that someone is totally incompetent. However, the GMC fails substantially when it comes to protecting patients from harm caused by doctors.

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One of the challenges in regulating any sphere of human endeavour is how to handle conflicts of interest, which arise particularly in the sphere of medical research. For a doctor involved in research to obtain the respect of his or her peers, papers based on original research are needed. They lead to international conferences and being fĂȘted on the world stage, but patients just want good health. Josef Mengele’s activities during the second world raised serious questions about medical research ethics. He performed a lot of experimentation on unwilling human subjects that was not in the interests of the patients concerned, and did them harm. The challenge for medical regulation is to ensure that the interests of the patients come first, but sadly, over the past 20 years it has failed to do so.

The best example of that comes from the research of Dr. David Southall. Dr. Southall has done much research on sudden infant death—an important area of research, given the numbers of children who have died without a clear diagnosis. Perhaps the biggest project was known as protocol 85.02. Dr. Southall looked at the response of babies to asphyxiation, shortage of oxygen and the presence of carbon dioxide. The experiments were known as sleep studies, and started with about 7,000 babies born in the mid ’80s at Doncaster and Rotherham hospitals.

Phases 1 and 2 of the experiments were quite reasonable. Phase 3, however, involved choking babies for 10 sessions of 10 seconds, depriving them of oxygen by giving them only 15 per cent. oxygen rather than the normal 21 per cent., and then giving them too much carbon dioxide. Parents were not asked for their consent to the experiments; they were merely told, in writing, that they would happen, without any details.

A large number of brain-damaged babies were born in Doncaster in the 1980s. However, the records showing which babies were in the experiments were not in the medical files, because Dr. Southall kept secret files, known as special case files. Although compensation was paid, the causation was not entirely clear. The process expanded with the Office for National Statistics providing details of all deaths from sudden infant death syndrome—about 12,000 cases—so that Dr. Southall could continue his research with the siblings.

It is not clear how many of those children were subjected to sleep studies, or what the outcome was, but what is clear from the experience of Karen Brenchley and Davina Hollisey McLean is that their children were forced into the experiments, and probably suffered brain damage as a result. Dr. Southall did much of the research at the Royal Brompton hospital—the focus of other concerns about brain-damaged babies that were raised by the Mayor of London when he was a Member of this House, and by the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) more recently.

Protocol 85.02 was not the only research project operated by Dr. Southall. He also gave carbon monoxide to babies with breathing problems, caused so much damage to babies in his experiments that they needed resuscitation, and did considerable damage through his experimental continuous negative extrathoracic pressure tanks, which he told others was tried and tested when in fact it was research.

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The problem is that over decades he was allowed to continue to do research just as damaging as that of Josef Mengele, without proper action by the authorities. Notwithstanding many requests to his employer, the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, there has been no action to tell patients what has been happening. One of the most worrying aspects is that the records of babies who suffered sudden infant death give no indication of what was done to help them, such as giving additional oxygen to prevent the death.

Earlier this year, in Yokohama, a German doctor presented an abstract of research referring to babies being monitored during a SID. What that means is that records were kept of babies as they died. The abstract includes the words:



I share the concern of the chief executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, in that

However, much as I have requested an investigation as to the provenance of the information, no investigation has occurred. That particular doctor worked for some time with Dr. Southall on projects that could have led to such measurements being taken.

In essence, what we have is evidence of a doctor managing research likely to lead to brain damage and/or death in infants. There is evidence of a substantial number of babies being brain-damaged at the same hospital. There are also records of babies dying from symptoms that could have been caused by that type of research. However, there is no detailed explanation.

The allegations are very serious, but the system of regulation wants to ignore them. After many years of struggle, the General Medical Council started to hear evidence in November relating indirectly to research. It has, however, now decided to adjourn the hearing for 11 months. What is particularly interesting is the history of the special case files. Those have been stored in all sorts of locations, and they have been involved in criminal prosecutions and in family court actions. At one stage, a parent infiltrated the charity run byDr. Southall to get access to the files. Court action resulted in their repossession.

In December 2005, it was agreed between the GMC and Dr. Southall that the files should be part of the medical records. However, he has now been allowed11 months to sanitise them. It is important to remember that there is evidence that the files have already been partially sanitised. Many of the patients are completely unaware that the files exist. I have made numerous requests of the NHS to control the files and legal proceedings are continuing in an attempt to keep them intact. However, the authorities continue to resist this, and to tolerate a major cover-up.

Floating around in the background are arguments claiming that the rules have been tightened upand what was permissible years ago is no longer permissible. The rules in the Nuremberg convention were quite clear—

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am not sure of the precise situation with regard to the case that the hon. Gentleman is discussing, but he will be aware that there are very important rules about sub judice and such matters. I trust that he is staying within their bounds.

John Hemming: I checked, and the GMC is not covered by the rules on sub judice. Other proceedings would be if they were live, but they are contemplated proceedings and therefore not covered by the rules.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that explanation.

John Hemming: The rules in the Nuremberg convention were clear some 50 years ago. The changing of rules is no excuse for inaction.

The GMC’s failings in this regard continue. I made a specific reference to the GMC about the research projects a few months ago to ensure that this particular issue had been considered. The GMC, however, has still not been capable of responding on matters when the facts are entirely clear. The argument is that the CHRE is there as the white knight in shining armour waiting to rescue patients from the inaction of the GMC. The problem is that the CHRE can act only when a fitness to practise panel has made a decision. If a GMC case examiner decides to reject a complaint, the only option is judicial review. I am aware of two cases, neither of them relating to Dr. Southall, to which that applies. It means that people with little means have almost no recourse, as the funding of judicial review proceedings is a difficult matter.

The issue relating to Dr. Southall will not go away. There has been a widespread attempt to conceal what has been done, but we cannot tolerate the turning of a blind eye to his activities. The point has been made to me that this sort of thing does not happen today, so I should not worry. However, unless we are willing to take enforcement action on what has happened in the past, no one can have any confidence that we will take enforcement action today. Furthermore, Dr. Southall has been barred only from child protection work; he can still work in other fields.

Dr. Southall’s history is more complex because of the interrelationship between the unethical research and false allegations made by him, mainly in the family courts but also in the criminal courts. His secret medical files have been a key part of that. He kept the knowledge of their existence from the courts. Furthermore, the lack of action to maintain its integrity makes the national health service institutionally complicit in the destruction of evidence. Dr. Southall’s ability to come up with random unsubstantiated and unreasonable allegations about other people must be second to none. What amazes me is that it has gone on for so long. I worry about what Dr. Southall does when he goes abroad.

There are difficult issues relating to medical ethics and negligence. The Bolam test is an understandable part of the process. We also need to stop trying to blame someone every time something bad happens: sometimes bad things happen and they are no one’s fault. It is not surprising that people use unethical techniques to attempt to turn the finger of blame away from them when it should not really point at anyone.

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It remains the case, however, that we cannot continue to cover up the history of the research projects managed by Dr. Southall. Action needs to be taken to enforce the rules. As an absolute minimum, the Secretary of State for Health must obtain and keep secure a complete copy of the special case files, including those kept at Dr. Southall’s charity and any kept elsewhere. Turning a blind eye is not acceptable.

I am sorry to have rushed through that lengthy speech, but I wanted to confine it to 10 minutes. The point that I want to make about Christmas is that we in Birmingham do not wish people a happy Winterval. We in Birmingham wish them a happy Christmas—that is displayed on the Council House—so happy Christmas, everyone!

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