In today’s Times:
Hundreds of doctors are protesting against “unjust” attempts to strike off a paediatrician who was convicted of the manslaughter of a six-year-old boy.
The pursuit [J4MB emphasis: What a ridiculous emotionally-charged word in this context] of Hadiza Bawa-Garba by the General Medical Council (GMC) ignores the part short-staffing played in her mistakes and “promotes a climate of defensiveness”, they claim. Doctors will be scared to admit to errors and patients will not be safer, more than 700 professionals write in a letter to The Times. [J4MB: In plain English, doctors – most of whom are women today – should not be stopped from practising medicine, even if their actions and/or inactions have led to the deaths of children.]
Nicola Adcock, whose son Jack died after Dr Bawa-Garba missed the signs of sepsis and marked him as “do not resuscitate” after mixing him up with another child, said she was “disgusted that doctors are all sticking together”.
Dr Bawa-Garba, then 35 and a paediatric registrar, was the most senior doctor on the children’s assessment ward at Leicester Royal Infirmary in 2011 when Jack arrived with diarrhoea and vomiting. She did not follow up abnormal tests quickly, did not call in a consultant and did not spot what experts described as a “barn-door obvious” case of sepsis. [J4MB emphasis]
When a crash team tried to resuscitate him, she told them to stop without looking at his notes, mistaking him for another patient. [J4MB emphasis] Although this did not contribute to Jack’s death, the judge in Dr Bawa-Garba’s trial said the “extraordinary” error illustrated how bad her care was. She was given a two-year suspended sentence [J4MB emphasis] in 2015.
Earlier this year an independent Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service panel decided she should not be struck off, citing “the context of wider failures”, such as a lack of other doctors and nurses and delayed test results. Instead she was suspended for at least a year, with the panel saying her mistakes were not “irremediable”.
The GMC is appealing, saying that public trust in the profession will be harmed if a doctor can continue after a manslaughter conviction. The High Court will hear the case on Thursday.
However, leading doctors including Professor Sir Iain Chalmers, a pioneer of evidence-based medicine, and Kim Holt, who blew the whistle over the care of Baby P, write that “we know of no evidence that terminating Dr Bawa-Garba’s medical career will make any patient safer. [J4MB: What ‘evidence’ is required? What about the reasonable expectation that other children might die as a result of her actions and inactions?] On the contrary it promotes a climate of defensiveness”.
David Nicholl, the consultant who organised the letter, said that the case had put patient safety back 20 years and warned of a “chilling effect” that would make doctors hide mistakes rather than learn from them.
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has said that “safe spaces” where doctors can admit errors without it being used against them [J4MB emphasis} are crucial to ending a culture of cover-up in the NHS. [J4MB: We never heard of such a culture when the majority of doctors were men.]
Mrs Adcock said Dr Bawa-Garba had escaped with a “slap on the wrist”. She added: “She’s never been held accountable for what she did. She hasn’t gone to prison, she hasn’t been struck off. Never once did she ever say sorry to us, she showed no remorse, nothing.”
She urged the GMC to hold firm for other families, saying: “Would you want someone convicted of gross negligence manslaughter treating your child?”
Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said: “We have a clear responsibility to maintain the public’s confidence in the medical profession. That is why we must act in cases where a truly exceptional degree of negligence — the very high threshold set in the criminal law for gross negligence manslaughter — has been established, as was the case with Dr Bawa-Garba.”
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