Dr Bawa-Garba will find out at 3pm on Monday whether the Court of Appeal will overturn a High Court decision that led to her removal from the medical register.
The verdict could be a landmark moment for the NHS, deciding the next step in a case that saw former health secretary Jeremy Hunt warn that patients could be put at risk by doctors being put off taking part in reflective practice by the decision to strike off Dr Bawa-Garba.
GPonline reported that hundreds of GPs had boycotted written reflection within weeks of a High Court ruling made in January that saw her struck off rather than receiving a one-year suspension imposed by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS). Seven out of 10 GPs no longer believe recording reflective notes is safe, a poll by this website found last month.
The High Court ruling followed a successful appeal by the GMC, which argued that suspension was ‘not sufficient’ to protect the public or maintain public confidence in the medical profession given that Dr Bawa-Garba had earlier been convicted of gross negligence manslaughter following the death of six-year-old patient Jack Adcock in 2011.
Speaking on the first day of an appeal hearing on 25 and 26 July, Dr Bawa-Garba’s counsel James Laddie QC described how, in the 70th anniversary year of the NHS, the case had turned out to be ‘something of a lightning rod for the dissatisfaction of doctors and medical staff in this country’.
On the day Jack Adcock died, Dr Bawa-Garba - a junior doctor who had only recently returned from maternity leave - was the most senior doctor in charge of the Children’s Assessment Unit (CAU) at Leicester Royal Infirmary due to staff absences. There was also an IT failure which led to delays in obtaining test results, and a breakdown in communications also meant that she was unable to contact her senior house officer.
However, the GMC has maintained it had no choice but to appeal the MPTS decision because it had taken 'a less severe view of the personal culpability of a doctor' than had been established in a criminal court.
Speaking ahead of the verdict Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, a registrar in emergency and intensive care medicine and chair of The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), said: ‘This is desperately sad case, and one which has rocked the medical profession. The concerted action by the GMC against Dr Bawa-Garba has not only halted progress on the safety agenda, but set it back decades.
‘We are hopeful that the judgment on Monday will allow an otherwise competent and dedicated doctor to return to the profession she loves. A positive outcome for Dr Bawa-Garba today will represent a shift away from a culture of fear and blame, to one of learning, that the NHS so sorely needs.’
In response to Dr Bawa-Garba’s case, The Doctors' Association UK has launched a ‘Learn Not Blame’ campaign, which aims to overhaul NHS culture.
Dr Cicely Cunningham, a clinical oncology specialty trainee and ‘Learn Not Blame’ lead at DAUK, said: ‘Scandals such as Mid-Staffs, Gosport, and Morecambe Bay repeatedly demonstrate how a culture of defensiveness and denial can escalate into widespread cover-up, leaving families fighting for answers.
‘The climate of fear among the medical profession created by the GMC’s actions over Dr Bawa-Garba only makes it more likely that this will happen again. If the High Court ruling is overturned, this will be one small step in the right direction towards a just culture.’