MEDICAL MANSLAUGHTER

In January this year, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped manslaughter charges against two doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, Michael Lee and Dermot Murphy. The case concerned the death of a 12-year- old non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patient attending for chemotherapy who was given vincristine into the spine instead of intravenously.

Treatment had to be delayed as the patient had not fasted, which meant that the senior registrar who was to have administered the treatment was off duty. The patient was sent to a general ward as the cancer ward was full, and a nurse there, who was unaware that vincristine should not be taken into the operating theatre, took both drugs into the theatre where the patient was to have his lumbar puncture.

The drugs were administered by a registrar in haematology who had no experience of spinal injections of cytotoxic drugs. He had telephoned the other doctor charged, a specialist registrar in paediatric anaesthetics, and asked whether the procedure was straightforward and whether he should just inject the drugs, to which the reply had been 'yes'.

But the case was dropped after the CPS decided the death was due to a series of mishaps and failings in the hospital system rather than gross negligence by the doctors.