RCGP to make policy statement on Bawa-Garba implications for GPs

The RCGP will make a policy statement by the end of this week addressing the impact on general practice of the Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba case, after council members called for new guidance and rules to ensure 'an open culture of learning, quality improvement and patient safety'.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)

Wessex Faculty member Dr Sunil Bhanot proposed a motion for debate at the 23 February college council meeting, urging the college to consider 'patient safety, ethical and legal implications' for GPs arising from the case.

The motion raises concerns about 'the feasibility and process of honest reflection, documentation and meaningful learning for training and continuing professional development if the information may be used for litigation'.

It also calls for clarity on the 'duties, obligations and practical steps a doctor needs to take when working in situations where there are significant patient safety concerns'.

Read the motion in full

The motion was not formally put forward, but was debated at length, with the college now due to make a formal statement this week.

An RCGP spokeswoman told GPonline: 'A lengthy discussion on the implications of the Dr Bawa-Garba case, led by RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, was held at the start of the council meeting, as a result of which Dr Bhanot chose not to take forward his proposed motion.

'The college will be making a further statement this week based on the views expressed during the discussion.'

GP workload pressure

Dr Bhanot told GPonline he had raised the issue because colleagues across the country were calling for a clear statement from the college - distinct from broader statements by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges - about how the Bawa-Garba case affected general practice, particularly in light of the chronic workload pressure GPs are working under.

Speaking at the council session, he said: 'Humans are fallible. We make mistakes and we are more likely to make mistakes when we do not have time to care, resources to treat and support to learn and improve.

'I want the RCGP to have a clear voice and support our colleagues that often have no way of escalating patient safety concerns. To articulate how our "daily pressures" increase the risk of mistakes due to an under-resourced NHS.

'To ask for a fundamental reform of regulation that does not always seek to blame but appreciates and support professionalism, open and honest learning and the environment in which uncertain and complex professional judgments are made.'

High Court

Dr Bawa-Garba was struck off in January after the GMC won a High Court case in which it challenged a medical tribunal ruling that suspension for 12 months was a more appropriate sanction. The GMC successfully argued that because a crown court had earlier convicted Dr Bawa-Garba of gross negligence manslaughter, removing her from the medical register was the only option.

The manslaughter conviction related to the death in 2011 of six-year-old Jack Adcock at Leicester Royal Infirmary.

However, the case has sparked widespread concern among doctors, with many believing Dr Bawa-Garba has been blamed individually for system failures in the hospital and fears about the role played in her conviction by information shared in reflection on the incident.

Dr Bawa-Garba's medical defence organisation has made clear information from her e-portfolio was not used in evidence against her, although notes made by her duty consultant on a meeting with Dr Bawa-Garba after the event to discuss and learn from it formed part of his witness statement.

At the RCGP meeting, Dr Bhanot expressed his 'sincere sympathy for the parents, family and friends of Jack Adcock'.

He said the case had shaken the foundations of the medical profession, and spoke of 'deep sorrow and sadness in response to the tragedy of the death of a young child because of failings of the NHS'.

But he warned that 'colleagues feel bullied to work in situations when there are significant patient safety concerns' and must not be 'stabbed in the back for working in these conditions'.

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