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Independents' Day

GMC chief executive admits Bawa-Garba legal advice was wrong

The GMC's chief executive has admitted the legal advice the regulator received during the Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba case was wrong and if the same case were to take place now he would not try to have a doctor barred from practice.

Charlie Massey said he 'completely accepts' the legal advice he was given to pursue the striking off of Dr Bawa-Garba - who was convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence following the death of a six-year-old patient - was 'not correct'.

His comments follow a recent independent review of gross negligence, manslaughter and culpable homicide - commissioned by the GMC - that concluded the regulator should take 'immediate steps' to rebuild doctors’ trust after relations were damaged following the case of Dr Bawa-Garba.

The Doctors' Association UK (DAUK) said Mr Massey's admission that his attempt to strike off Dr Bawa-Garba was wrong was 'long overdue'.

Dr Bawa-Garba was convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence in 2015 following the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock at Leicester Royal Infirmary in 2011.

After receiving a 24-month suspended sentence for the conviction, the GMC's Medical Practitioner Tribunal Service (MPTS) suspended her for one year. However, the GMC appealed its tribunal’s decision and called for the doctor to be struck off.

Dr Bawa-Garba was then struck off the medical register after the High Court ruled in favour of the GMC in early 2018.

There was widespread criticism about the decision by doctors who argued systemic pressures affecting the hospital Dr Bawa-Garba had been working in at the time had not been taken into account.

Later in 2018 Court of Appeal judges ruled in her favour - restoring the MPTS decision that she should be suspended from the medical register rather than erased - pointing out that the legal advice given to the GMC was not correct.

In a recent BBC Radio 4 interview with DAUK chair Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, Mr Massey said: 'The GMC wasn’t involved in the criminal process whatsoever. So the question that came to me was whether or not that criminal conviction itself should lead to suspension or erasure. The tribunal decided to suspend Dr Bawa-Garba. The advice that I had at the time was that the tribunal had acted unlawfully and went behind the criminal judgement in terms of her responsibility for Jack Adcock’s death.

'I said at the time that I felt I had no option but to appeal that decision. The High Court decision have upheld that view and then the Court of Appeal overturned that view. It clarified that that legal advice I had was, with hindsight, not correct and I completely accept that. If that case came up now, that Court of Appeal judgement would mean that I wouldn’t have appealed that case.'

Mr Massey also recognised the increasing pressures doctors are faced with and said the GMC is now trying to help address these issues.

He said: 'For the vast majority of doctors where we end up suspending or erasing them they’re not for honest and innocent mistakes against the background of system pressure. The vast majority of these cases are for behavioural issues - things like sexual misconduct, dishonesty and probity issues.

'But I do recognise completely that question about system context, pressure and that’s why the GMC has stepped much more into this territory about thinking “how do we influence that context more effectively”? It is not acceptable for a doctor to be left alone covering a huge busy ward at night.'

In response, Dr Batt-Rawden said: 'The acknowledgment that his decision to appeal the MPTS verdict in Dr Bawa-Garba’s case was incorrect was long overdue and will be welcomed by doctors and the public.

'DAUK wrote to the GMC as far back as February 2018 in a letter signed by over 4,500 doctors in protest of the GMC’s appeal against Dr Bawa-Garba. In that letter we brought to light that the Professional Standards Authority had found this decision to be “incorrect” and “without merit” and that the MPTS “considered all relevant principles and applied the case law appropriately”.

'DAUK also pointed out that the Supreme Court established that professional tribunals were better placed than courts to determine professional competence in 2016. We were therefore astonished by the GMC’s actions in this case. We were pleased that DAUK was found to be correct in the Court of Appeal in August 2018 and that Dr Bawa-Garba was rightly restored to the medical register, something we have long fought for during our Learn Not Blame campaign.'

She added: 'To my knowledge this was the first occasion that Charlie Massey accepted publicly that this decision was wrong. This represents a crucial first step in repairing the damage done to the medical profession by the Bawa-Garba case.

'The GMC still has a long way to go in regaining the trust of doctors, but for the first time in this interview I saw that some genuine reflection and learning had taken place. I hope this signals change in tone from the GMC and we look forward to working with them in moving from a culture of blame, to one of learning.'

An unpublished review - conducted by the Professional Standards Authority in July 2018 - criticised the GMC for its handling of the case, saying the reason for overruling the MPTS decision to suspend, rather than strike off, Dr Bawa-Garba 'appeared without merit given the established case law'.

Last month, Mr Massey said the GMC would shift how it spends the bulk of its resources, from investigating doctors to supporting them.

Readers' comments (31)

  • So it was the legal advice that was wrong was it ?
    Charlie didn’t take the decision then. Really!
    So why does he get all that money and benefits ?

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  • "Persecuting doctors,failing to protect patients".

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  • I can bet a penny to a 100 pounds, the lawyer was not covering 4 other lawyers.
    The price you pay in the UK for doing a kindness; selfless and altruistic extra work of all the missing doctors is complaint, GMC investigations, GNM and jail time.
    Imagine what a country this is now. You cannot walk away if you are overwhelmed by lack of doctors, you will be up before the GMC and struck off. If you stay and get overwhelmed you get GNM, jail and get struck off. Is this really once fair Britain???

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  • Dear All,
    In these circumstances the person at the top of the tree normally does the honourable thing and resigns.
    Paul C

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  • I agree, Charlie Massey needs to go, but he wont...... he made the wrong decision and given its importance in the medical world, he needs to do the decent thing....but he wont..... therefore the GMC will continue to be mistrusted by the profession

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  • I believe the initial injustice lies with the paid medical experts who could not clearly help the court to place the case in context. They should be named.

    Secondly when the case came to the MPTS, the medical experts failed her. They should be named.

    Lets look at ourselves, medical experts first. Medical experts who are totally unqualified.

    Then Lawyers who scrounge on doctor matters, and this particular lawyer depends on GMC matters.

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  • Do the honourable thing Massey and resign!
    Or be sacked.

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  • please-delete-this-fucking-profile-i-cant-delete-it-in-my-account-settings

    the legal system in the U.K. simply serves itself

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  • Would be interesting to know his alcohol intake.

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  • Senior managers salaries(on the GMC website) - link below:

    We publish annual salaries based on the Information Commissioner’s Office guidance.

    Name Position Salary
    Charlie Massey Chief Executive and Registrar £240,000 - £250,000

    Susan Goldsmith Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Chief Executive £205,000 - £215,000

    Anthony Omo Director of Fitness to Practise £195,000 - £200,000

    Una Lane Director of Registration and Revalidation £195,000 - £200,000

    Neil Roberts Director of Resources and Quality Assurance £195,000 - £200,000

    Paul Buckley Director of Strategy and Policy £195,000 - £200,000

    Colin Melville Medical Director and Director of Education and Standards £195,000 - £200,000

    Paul Reynolds Director of Strategic Communications and Engagement £175,000 - £185,000

    Senior managers salaries as of 1 April 2019

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