Junior doctor Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba was struck off after the GMC won a High Court case last week, overturning a medical tribunal's decision to suspend her for 12 months. Dr Bawa-Garba had earlier been convicted of manslaughter after the death of a six-year-old boy, but the medical tribunal found that erasure from the medical register would have been disproportionate due to mitigating factors.
Following the High Court decision, around 10,000 doctors came forward within 36 hours to sign a letter written by two London junior doctors that explains why the medical community is profoundly concerned about the implications of the case. More than 5,000 of the signatories are GPs or GP trainees.
GPonline reported earlier today that hundreds of GPs had begun a boycott of reflective writing for appraisal after information recorded by Dr Bawa-Garba was used in evidence to convict her of manslaughter.
Doctors behind a crowdfunding campaign have raised more than £200,000 to support a legal challenge against the GMC decision to strike off Dr Bawa-Garba. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, the BMA, and other organisations have joined those expressing concern.
Read the letter in full:
We write in response to the High Court ruling in the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba.
Her case involves the heartrending death of Jack Adcock in 2011. Our sympathies are with his family who, like all doctors, are committed to understanding what happened and to righting the wrongs that so failed their son that day. Nonetheless, as fellow doctors we have deep-seated concerns about the implications that follow from Dr Bawa-Garba’s manslaughter conviction and striking from the medical register.
Firstly, as correctly highlighted by the Health and Social Care Secretary, patient safety is paramount and a culture of openness is critical to learning from medical error. The use against Dr Bawa-Garba of her recorded reflections on this event in a legal process will frighten doctors of all grades away from honest self-appraisal. In one move, this undoes years of positive cultural change within medical training.
Secondly, every doctor has worked in similar conditions and we have all made mistakes. In other safety critical industries there is clear understanding that human error is a fact of life that must be planned for; a pilot would never take-off if the captain and most of the crew were not on the plane. Doctors do not have this option and frequently take on the work of two or more in order to keep our hospitals open. We have seen doctors (Dr Chris Day being a high-profile example) punished for whistle-blowing about unsafe staffing levels. We now see them being held criminally responsible for mistakes made whilst working under these pressures, which, with chronic staff shortages, prolonged underfunding and low morale, now occur with worrying frequency.
Dr Bawa-Garba made mistakes, but to properly learn from these they must be viewed in the context in which she was working. If we allow Jack Adcock’s death to be explained by the culpability of a single individual we can only lessen our chances of preventing a similar death in the future.
Dr Fionna Martin, Medical Registrar, London
Dr James Crane, Medical Registrar, London