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GMC successful in High Court bid to strike off junior doctor

The GMC has won a High Court bid to have a junior doctor struck off the medical register, against the decision of its own tribunal.

The Medical Practitioner Tribunal Service decided in June last year that erasing trainee paediatrician Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba from the register would be ‘disproportionate’ and recommended a 12-month suspension instead.

But the GMC disagreed and told the High Court in December that she should be struck off 'to protect the public' after her actions resulted in the death of a six-year-old boy.

The case sparked anger within the medical community, with hundreds of doctors writing to the GMC to voice their concerns that its actions would lead to ‘criminalisation of clinical error’ and worsen patient safety

In the judgment handed down this morning, the court ruled that Dr Bawa-Garba’s original sanction of suspension should be replaced with a decision to remove the doctor’s name from the medical register.

Lord Justice Ouseley said: 'I come firmly to the conclusion that the decision of the Tribunal on sanction was wrong, that the GMC appeal must be allowed, and that this Court must substitute the sanction of erasure for the sanction of suspension.

'The Tribunal did not respect the verdict of the jury as it should have. In fact, it reached its own and less severe view of the degree of Dr Bawa-Garba’s personal culpability.

'It did so as a result of considering the systemic failings and failings of other, and then came to tis own, albeit unstated, view that she was less culpable than the verdict of the jury established.'

The Medical Protection Society, which represented Dr Bawa-Garba, warned that the case would have worrying implications for doctors.

MPS medical director Rob Hendry said: 'The outcome of the GMC’s appeal against the Tribunal decision on this case is disappointing and its implications will understandably be of concern to the healthcare community.

'This challenge was brought by the GMC following their recently acquired right to appeal - a power which we opposed on the basis that it creates an unnecessary and unjust duplication of the Professional Standards Authority’s function.'

The MPS argued that 'while the criminal courts dispense justice - including punishment - the regulator’s role is to protect patients'.

Mr Hendry said: 'When considering whether a doctor is fit and safe to practise every case must be assessed on its own merits and should not be solely determined by the criminal sanction handed down by the court. Gross Negligence Manslaughter cases are usually complex, involve systems failures, and are devastating for all concerned. A conviction should not automatically mean that a doctor who has fully remediated and demonstrated insight into their clinical failings is erased.

'This appeal decision may jeopardise an open, learning culture in healthcare at a time when the profession is already marred by low morale and fear. We are considering all options in the interests of our member and the wider profession.'

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: 'This has been a tragic case; a family has lost their son in terrible circumstances and a doctor has lost her career.

‘In today’s ruling the court has confirmed that the Tribunal was simply wrong to conclude that public confidence in the profession could be maintained without removing the doctor from the medical register.'

Dr Bawa-Garba was a registrar at the Children’s Assessment Unit at Leicester Royal Infirmary on 18 February 2011, and the most senior doctor on the shift, when a six-year-old child with sepsis died. Dr Bawa-Garba continued to work at the hospital trust up until she was convicted of manslaughter by a Crown Court Jury in November 2015.

The MPTS said in a June 2017 hearing however, that erasing Dr Bawa-Garba from the GMC register would be ‘disproportionate’, that her actions were neither ‘deliberate or reckless’ and that she did not ’pose a continuing risk to patients.’

Mr Massey said: ‘The ruling clarifies that tribunals cannot go behind the jury’s verdict when a doctor is convicted in a criminal court.

'As the ruling makes clear, the Tribunal were wrong when they decided to suspend the doctor’s registration because in doing so they "reached their own less severe view of the degree of Dr Bawa-Garba’s personal culpability" than was established in the criminal court; which found that Dr Bawa-Garba’s failures that day were not simply honest errors or mere negligence, but were truly exceptionally bad.

'The judgment also found that the Tribunal did not give the weight required when considering the need to maintain public confidence in the profession.

‘We know the strength of feeling expressed by many doctors working in a system under sustained pressure, and we are totally committed to engendering a speak-up culture in the NHS. Doctors should never hesitate to act openly and honestly if something has gone wrong.’

 

Readers' comments (78)

  • And I am very sure that if this doctor is able to get over having her whole identity and self belief destroyed she will be better out of it

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  • I’m also upset that my money has been used by the GMC to do this to another doctor.

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  • Not enough people seem to know where the 'unprescribed dose of enalapril' came from but it's worth looking up to provide even more depressing context to the story.

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  • If there was ever a reason for a national strike across Primary and Secondary care surely this is it. A day of industrial action / rage is required.

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  • Well at least we all know what we are up against! This doctor appears to have been let down on soo many levels in circumstances that all of us have experienced over the years. I am not surprised Jeremy is uncomfortable, this case should be where we all make a stand.

    Patients cannot expect us to continue putting our livelihood and health on the line without appropriate time and resources. Come on BMA this is an open goal!

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  • Just made the mistake of reading public comments on a new report of this story. Gotta remember the public now generally hate us. Jeremy Hunt is only worried about himself and the system being challenged. We're f****d. A few people might retire early on the back of this or go to pharma. Nothing much else will happen.

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  • I wonder how much trouble she would have been in had she simply walked out, once she realised she was doing the work of three doctors, a double shift without food or a break, with a broken computer system, no adequate support and no induction? Would she have been as culpable for the events that ensued? I suspect not. A lesson for us all.

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  • "Scapegoat" comes to mind on reviewing this case.

    However it is proof to all of us that we must protect ourselves at all times. If a doctor fails to turn up then demand a replacement - tell the Consultant to get back in there!! We are not robots and errors will happen when we are stretched to breaking point. Never try to do more than you feel absolutely comfortable with.

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  • Why has this article been taken down in less than 24 hrs when it has had such a response? ? Editor????

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  • It looks like there is a lot of support for her, not just from the medical and nursing fraternity but I found this link on mums.net to a crowdfunding website to raise money for a legal team to attempt to appeal against the erasure from the medical register and also against her conviction of gross negligence manslaughter.

    https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/help-dr-bawa-garba/?utm_campaign=help-dr-bawa-garba&utm_content=post_pledge_page_flat_v1&utm_medium=Facebook&utm_reference=11c227c3897889c0291df23ac4e53630&utm_source=backer_social

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