Several senior doctors at the National Institutes of Health say the leadership of the largest research hospital in the world was unfairly demonized in an independent report that claimed the clinic has gradually put patient safety second to research.
In a letter to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins last month, seven department heads and renowned physicians stated that the report (PDF) demoralized staff, and the idea that patient safety had taken a back seat to anything at the clinic was simply incorrect, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The NIH did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday, but Collins has said he plans to meet with the authors of the letter. He also told the Wall Street Journal that the clinic's problems at the clinic were not with its leadership.
That reaction seems in contrast to action taken last month to create three new NIH leadership positions, including a CEO who will replace Clinical Center Director Dr. John Gallin, who has led the hospital for more than 20 years.
The changes followed a report triggered by a 2015 incident that forced the clinic pharmacy's closure. Two vials of medicine mixed for patients were found to contain fungus.
Collins responded by establishing the group responsible for the report, the Clinical Center Working Group, which was to provide a fully independent assessment and appropriate recommendations to address pharmacy concerns.
The report stated that "fragmentation of authority and responsibility for clinical operations, driven by a unique decentralized structure, authority and funding for intramural clinical research," resulted in gaps that could "compromise patient safety."
The Clinical Center's Patient Advisory Group, which includes 21 patients, former patients and parents of patients, released a statement Thursday backing the doctors and asking the NIH to reconsider its leadership changes. Gallin created the patient group in 1998 to get feedback on the performance of the clinic and its services.
“This hospital and the clinical staff who work here have saved our lives,” the members wrote. “If fewer patients come to NIH for treatment, what a sad outcome for their lives and for the furtherance of medical science.”