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Support mounts for paediatrician whom GMC wants struck off

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5384 (Published 21 November 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5384
  1. Deborah Cohen
  1. BMJ

The UK General Medical Council risks acting like an “erudite and urbane kangaroo court” if it proceeds with its bid in the High Court to erase a trainee paediatrician from the UK medical register, Nick Ross, a director of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and a champion of an openness culture in the NHS, has told The BMJ.

Ross is one of thousands of supporters of a campaign backing Hadiza Bawa-Garba, the doctor convicted of gross negligence manslaughter in 2015 after the death of a 6 year old boy from sepsis.1

Bawa-Garba was not struck off the medical register by a medical practitioners tribunal last June,2 despite calls from the GMC. The tribunal found that the doctor’s failings were a causative factor in the death of Jack Adcock but opted for a year’s suspension, citing “multiple systemic failures” and evidence from colleagues that she was an excellent doctor.

A GMC appeal against the tribunal’s ruling is set to be heard in the High Court on 7 December.

A change.org petition to Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, calling for the council to stop its appeal has so far attracted more than 10 000 signatures. It argues that Bawa-Garba has accepted her errors and has been “fully remediated.”

The GMC’s stance “is focused on punishment and retribution” and is counter to its “commitment to support trainees as the consultant workforce of the future,” says the petition.

To date the latest report of Bawa-Garba’s plight on bmj.com has prompted 36 responses, including from Nick Ross, doctors, hospital board members, and patient safety advocates.3 They have said that, while they understood the family’s anger and grief, Bawa-Garba has been made a “scapegoat” for “institutional inadequacy” at the hospital involved, Leicester Royal Infirmary.

David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, told The BMJ, “As the GMC itself said in 2001, ‘honest failure should not be responded to primarily by blame and retribution but by learning and by a drive to reduce risk for future patients.’ Sadly, the GMCs actions in 2017 show that the blame culture is alive and well in the GMC, and duty of candour is dead.”

The responses reflect concern that the GMC has wrongly described Bawa-Garba as “the doctor in charge of the unit” and that she had a responsibility to ensure that the nurses were monitoring Jack Adcock.

A GMC spokesperson said that it had acknowledged the strength of feeling around Bawa-Garba’s case and that it wanted to “reassure doctors that we never take the decision to appeal lightly.”

The spokesperson added, “But we do have a duty to take action where, after careful consideration, we conclude that a medical practitioners tribunal’s decision was insufficient to protect the public or maintain the public’s confidence in the profession.

“Having considered evidence of mitigating factors in this case, including systemic issues, the Crown Court concluded, and the Court of Appeal agreed, that the threshold for the ‘truly exceptional degree of negligence’ for gross negligence manslaughter to be established had indeed been met.”

The GMC’s statement defended its role in supporting doctors to speak up and raise concerns locally and ensuring that the health service was “a place for learning and not blaming.”

The spokesperson said, “We are clear that doctors should never hesitate to act openly and honestly if something has gone wrong. Indeed, in cases where a doctor has made a mistake, shown insight, and has taken steps to apologise to their patient or their family, this weighs in their favour if concerns are raised about their fitness to practise.”

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