Stephen Bolsin – Bristol Scandal Whilstleblower mock interview in BMJ confidential. The duty of candour shows no sign of overriding the culture of fear and bullying.

What more to say? Read the Kennedy inquiry and reflect if anything has changed? Hospitals are still told to stop gagging NHS whistleblowers in 2015… and no awards (MBE, OBE) have been given to Dr Bolsin and the other heroes of our UK Health Services. The duty of candour shows no sign of overriding the culture of fear and bullying.

Who do managers wish to recruit?

Why don’t people speak out at the top level?

The BMJ (BMJ2016; 352:i328) published 12th March 2016, some 15 years on.

Stephen Bolsin, 63, is the gnawing conscience of the NHS in England, the man who blew the whistle on failings in paediatric heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary and was rewarded with the sound of slamming doors. An anaesthetist appointed as a consultant in Bristol in 1988, Bolsin recognised and tried to remedy failings in the service, finally turning whistleblower. This led to the Kennedy inquiry (2001), which vindicated his concerns and was a landmark in clinical governance. He subsequently found it impossible to find another position in the UK and moved to Australia, where he became director of critical care services at Geelong Hospital in Victoria, achieving world class outcomes with the adult cardiac anaesthetic service he started. He has honorary professorial positions at Monash and Melbourne Universities.

What was your earliest ambition?

To drive steam engines.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My parents were both inspirational people. They met as Christian missionaries in India just after the partition, and their courage, compassion, and honesty made them role models.

What was the worst mistake in your career?

Accepting the position of consultant cardiac anaesthetist at Bristol Royal Infirmary. That decision led to some of the worst years of my professional life.

What was your best career move?

Accepting the position of consultant cardiac anaesthetist at Bristol Royal Infirmary. My time in Bristol strengthened my ethical and family values, while helping to establish clinical governance in medicine.

Bevan or Lansley? Who has been the best and the worst health secretary in your lifetime?

The worst in my lifetime was Keith Joseph, who wasted millions of NHS pounds by introducing an extra tier of management between districts and regions, called areas. They were quietly removed after a suitable interval. The best was Iain Macleod, who courageously supported the Family Planning Association and thus increased equality for women. He also supported legalising abortion and decriminalising homosexuality, and he opposed the death penalty.

Who is the person you would most like to thank, and why?

My wife, Maggie, for her unwavering support and understanding, particularly throughout Bristol; and Baroness Primarolo and Baroness Corston, for believing in me enough to raise questions in the House of Commons, which eventually broke the silence on the Bristol scandal.

To whom would you most like to apologise?

Mandy Evans, Joshua Loveday’s mother. Joshua was scheduled for the last switch operation in Bristol before the reorganisation of paediatric cardiac surgery. Maggie and I agonised over warning Joshua’s parents when we thought Joshua’s operation might proceed. When I was told by the Department of Health that the operation should not take place in Bristol, I believed that Joshua was safe. I was devastated when his operation went ahead despite the appalling record in Bristol. I’ll always regret not giving Mandy the chance to judge my concerns for Joshua’s safety herself, and I’m sorry for failing to save Joshua’s life.

If you were given £1m what would you spend it on?

I’d invest it on improving healthcare for patients using technology.

Where are or were you happiest?

Some of my happiest memories are of rugby tours to Ireland with the University College Hospital Pelicans rugby team, and of cricket matches on English village greens.

What single unheralded change has made the most difference in your field in your lifetime?

Technically, the laryngeal mask has made the biggest difference to my specialty of anaesthesia in my clinical lifetime. Clinical governance across medicine wasn’t predictable when I trained, but it’s made a huge difference to medicine and is the sole positive thing to emerge from the Bristol scandal.

Do you support doctor assisted suicide?

Yes: people who are seriously ill and suffering should be helped, if they wish to end their lives, by conscientious and courageous doctors.

What book should every doctor read?

Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People springs to mind. I was given a copy on leaving Bristol.

What poem, song, or passage of prose would you like mourners at your funeral to hear?

I think “Amazing Grace” is a wonderful hymn.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Since my coronary artery surgery, anything served with cream.

If you could be invisible for a day what would you do?

I’d take the field with the English and Australian cricket teams on the first day of the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

What television programmes do you like?

I enjoy watching cricket and rugby test matches, documentaries, and detective series, especially Foyle’s War.

What is your most treasured possession?

Maggie and my family. They would seriously dispute that they’re possessions, but they’re what I treasure most.

What, if anything, are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint?

We have a solar hot water system on the house, we generate electricity from solar panels for domestic use and feed excess into the grid, and I drive a hybrid car. I also have a thriving worm farm.

What personal ambition do you still have?

I had the privilege of training and working in the NHS, which I continue to admire. I’d cherish the opportunity to provide genuine clinical leadership to perpetuate the original ideals of the service.

Summarise your personality in three words

Tolerant, humorous, friendly.

Where does alcohol fit into your life?

At serious wine tastings and easy going social events.

What is your pet hate?

Clinical incompetence, and clinicians and managers who don’t prioritise safe, high quality patient care.

What would be on the menu for your last supper?

Prawns in garlic butter; beef tournedos Rossini with dauphinois potatoes; rhubarb crumble with custard and cream; a cheese platter; and coffee.

Do you have any regrets about becoming a doctor?

No regrets whatsoever. I’m incredibly fortunate to be a medical practitioner, particularly at this time. My career spans some of the most exciting and innovative times for healthcare. In particular, technology has the potential to create safer, better, and more affordable health services for a greater number of people globally.

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This entry was posted in A Personal View, Gagging, Perverse Incentives, Stories in the Media on by .

About Roger Burns - retired GP

I am a retired GP and medical educator. I have supported patient participation throughout my career, and my practice, St Thomas; Surgery, has had a longstanding and active Patient Participation Group (PPG). I support the idea of Community Health Councils, although I feel they should be funded at arms length from government. I have taught GP trainees for 30 years, and been a Programme Director for GP training in Pembrokeshire 20 years. I served on the Pembrokeshire LHG and LHB for a total of 10 years. I completed an MBA in 1996, and I along with most others, never had an exit interview from any job in the NHS! I completed an MBA in 1996, and was a runner up for the Adam Smith prize for economy and efficiency in government in that year. This was owing to a suggestion (St Thomas' Mutual) that practices had incentives for saving by being allowed to buy rationed out services in the following year.

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