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Health secretary 'deeply concerned' about implications of GMC court ruling

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has questioned the GMC for taking its own tribunal's decision to the High Court to be quashed.

Commenting on Twitter, Mr Hunt said he was 'perplexed' that the GMC acted as it did, adding that 'patient safety must be paramount'.

He further told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that doctors need to be able to express themselves freely about mistakes in order to keep patients safe.

Judges ruled in favour of the GMC yesterday and said Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba should be struck off the medical register after the death of a youg boy with sepsis in her care.

Mr Hunt said on Twitter: 'Wouldn’t be appropriate for me as Govt Minister to criticise a court ruling, but deeply concerned about possibly unintended implications here for learning and reflective practice in e-journals. Am also totally perplexed that GMC acted as they did: patient safety must be  paramount.'

Concerned doctors - over 800 of which signed a letter to GMC before last month's High Court hearing - have warned that it penalises the doctor for systemic trust failures and criminalises clinical error.

Mr Hunt told the Today programme: 'I do think we need to consider very carefully what may be some of the unintended consequences of this ruling. In particular, doctors have e-journals, in which they reflect on what they do.

'We know that in medicine all over the world there is always going to be mistakes made, and for patients to be safe we need doctors to be able to reflect completely openly and freely about what they have done, to learn from mistakes, spread best practice around the system, to talk openly with their colleagues. 

'And I want to make sure going forward that doctors are able to do that.'

To which he was asked: 'But as a result of this case, nobody will feel free to do that?'

He responded: 'Well we have to make absolute sure that isn't the case, because if we are going to keep patients safe, then we have to make sure that doctors are able to learn from mistakes.'

House of Commons Health Committee chair and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston also said she was concerned about the ruling, in response to the health secretary's comments: 'I agree there are unintended consequences from this case and whilst ministers cannot intervene in judicial process for this case there will need to be a review not only of system pressures but to make sure clinicians can learn from errors rather than fearful of discussing them.'

The Medical Protection Society, which represented Dr Bawa-Garba, said in light of the appeal decision that it 'may jeopardise an open, learning culture in healthcare at a time when the profession is already marred by low morale and fear'.

They added that they were 'considering all options in the interests of our member and the wider profession'.

The Medical Practitioner Tribunal Service decided in June last year that erasing trainee paediatrician Dr 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.

Yesterday, 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.'

Mr Hunt has been outspoken throughout his time as health secretary about creating an NHS culture of learning in light of the Francis Report into the failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Readers' comments (35)

  • Interestingly Mr Hunt has not called for the CEO of the GMC to resign....
    That would be the CEO that he encouraged in to the role, after he worked directly for Mr Hunt during the junior doctors strike.

    Sounds like empty words to me.

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  • Vinci Ho

    I put my money on Agent Hunt as the next PM and may be , just may be , Mojo Bojo as next Chancellor of Exchequer??

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  • To be honest this really means that Doctors cannot continue to work in the NHS as emergency practitioners as it appears that we will be blamed for system faults.

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  • Looked at the posts on another parallel thread too and this will likely speed my decision to walk away.

    Wonder why I discouraged my 2 kids to avoid medicine like the plague!

    Uncle Dr did the same for his kids too.

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  • behind the curtains, Mr Hunt is surely slapping the GMC on the back while he sheds crocodile tears in public. Could it be that we have an endemic Schizophrenia in NHS at certain levels?

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  • @ Iain Chalmers
    Exactly. I was so relieved when my first opted not to study Medicine. The GMC have behaved in a barbaric & vindictive fashion. I would be ashamed if I worked for them.

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  • For the first time I agree with Jeremy Hunt
    If his concerns are genuine he will doubtless take action to appeal the court ruling
    Nobody makes mistakes deliberately and the doctor will have reflected and learned a great deal
    A period of further troaining and supervision “ be might be more appropriate
    Thus is the usual double or triple jeopardy.

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  • Oh please! The only deep concern Mr.Hunt has is about his own position in the government. If there is any ‘concern’ it’s that there will be one less doctor to be in the NHS workforce! Is it any wonder that fewer want into medicine and those already in can’t wait to get out of the NHS.

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  • I agree with him but unfortunately suspect that he sees it as an opportunity to build bridges with medics.

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  • is it time for all Doctors who work for the MPTS to tell GMC they are wrong and resign if there is no clear improvement?

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