Following a recent High Court case involving Dr. Bawa-Garba (General Medical Council v Bawa-Garba  EWHC 76), many in the medical profession are outraged (Admin).
The case stemmed from procedures before the Medical Practitioners Tribunal, which determined that Bawa-Garba should be barred from practising for a year. The General Medical Council appealed the decision, which resulted in Bawa-removal Garba’s from the medical registry, effectively ending her ability to practise medicine.
The Court said it came to this decision “with sadness but little serious hesitation.”
So, what’s the backstory behind this sad tale?
Bawa-Garba was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence at Nottingham Crown Court in November 2015. She was given a suspended sentence of two years in prison.
This conviction stemmed from her carelessness with a six-year-old youngster who died. In December 2016, an appeal against the conviction was denied.
In subsequent High Court proceedings, it was said that her failures on that particular day were “really unusually awful,” and that this must be reflected in the sentence.
So, why did the Medical Practitioners Tribunal make such a mistake and simply impose a suspension?
The MPT had the privilege of hearing a considerable body of evidence about the pressures imposed on Dr. Bawa-Garba and the failures of others when it heard the case. In essence, GMC lawyers argued that the Tribunal had effectively permitted evidence of systemic flaws to undermine Dr Bawa-personal Garba’s guilt, despite the fact that such failings had been brought to the attention of the Crown Court, which condemned her.
As a result, the Tribunal determined to deem the Doctor less responsible than the jury on a legal basis, and the decision could not be upheld.
The High Court observed:
‘The day brought its unexpected workload, and strains and stresses caused by IT failings, consultant absences and her return from maternity leave. But there was no suggestion that her training in diagnosis of sepsis, or in testing potential diagnoses had been deficient, or that she was unaware of her obligations to assess for herself shortcomings or rustiness in her skills, and to seek assistance. There was no suggestion, unwelcome and stressful though the failings around her were, and with the workload she had that this was something she had not been trained to cope with or was something wholly out of the ordinary for a Year 6 trainee, not far off consultancy, to have to cope with, without making such serious errors. It was her failings which were truly exceptionally bad.’
A crowd-funding initiative has been set up to help Dr. Bawa-Garba. ”There needs to be greater transparency as to why these decisions were made and who made them. Many of us feel that Dr Bawa-Garba was unfairly discriminated against and scapegoated for multiple system failings that could easily have happened to any of us in the current political crisis of the NHS. We want patients to be protected and for this doctors need to be able to look after patients without fear that they will be blamed or worse struck off when working in unsafe and dangerous conditions.’
As a result, many people believe Bawa-Garba has been made a scapegoat for the NHS’s systematic failures.
In an additional twist to the issue, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has requested a study of criminal manslaughter as it pertains to medical professionals.
‘Doctors should learn from – not fear – mistakes,’ says the health secretary, adding that more clarity on the border between gross negligence and common errors is needed.
Sir Norman Williams (former President of the Royal College of Surgeons) will lead the review, which will deliver its findings by April 2018.
By any metric, this is a tragic case for all parties involved, and criminal practitioners will be watching the impact to determine its long-term implications.
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