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Pulse 2018 review: Bawa-Garba vs the GMC

online edit dr hadzia bawa garba

online edit dr hadzia bawa garba

If one name has teetered on the tongue, and in the conscience, of every UK doctor this year, it’s that of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba.

In January, an astonishing turn of events that shook the medical profession to its core saw the GMC attempt to strike Dr Bawa-Garba off its register – a decision sanctioned by the High Court.

This followed her criminal conviction for gross negligence manslaughter two years earlier, after the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock at Leicester Royal Infirmary in February 2011.

A series of conspiring circumstances, systemic errors and organisational failures had contributed to Jack’s preventable death from sepsis. And quite simply – in the eyes of the profession – Dr Bawa-Garba was scapegoated.

But the High Court’s involvement in the case was itself unprecedented.

Having dismissed the GMC’s original request to strike Dr Bawa-Garba from the register, the regulator's Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) found itself hauled in front of the High Court by a defiant GMC, which was adamant its tribunal service had got it wrong and that Dr Bawa-Garba should not be allowed practise medicine in the UK.

The High Court agreed with the GMC – and things began to unravel.

Many thousands protested the young doctor’s criminal conviction and erasure. Some 11,000 people signed a petition against the GMC’s action; a similar number donated to an appeal fund that ultimately raised more than £366,000.

The #IamHadiza movement was born. Doctors shared their own experiences of when human error had catastrophic results. ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ the profession cried, vociferously, in unison.

At Jack’s inquest, Dr Bawa-Garba conceded she had made errors on the day he died. But the possibility that reflections from her e-portfolio may have been used against her caused concern among clinicians, who said it set a dangerous precedent. Instead of learning from mistakes, doctors would now be afraid to acknowledge and talk about them, they said.

There were also accusations of discrimination. Would Dr Bawa-Garba have made such an easy target were she not a Nigerian Muslim?

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin outright accused the GMC of ‘inherent bias’ in its ‘harsh’ and ‘different’ treatment of BME doctors compared with white doctors and also in it ‘pursuit’ of Dr Bawa-Garba.

The GMC issued a fierce denial. But reports that BME doctors are three to five times more likely to be on the receiving end of GMC sanctions than their white peers begged the question: was Dr Bawa-Garba a convenient public whipping boy because of her race?

Eventually, common sense prevailed. In August, Dr Bawa-Garba successfully appealed the High Court’s ruling and it was decided she should not be struck off the GMC register. She was instead suspended - and should be able to return to work once her case is reviewed in the next six months.

But it won’t be the end.

A little boy died needlessly. His parents, understandably, want someone to be held responsible. Dr Bawa-Garba will live with what happened on that fateful day, and in the following years, for the rest of her life.

And importantly, the case has left a foreboding shadow over the GMC’s credibility and a dent in the morale of the medical profession.

Readers' comments (8)

  • And now how do we restore confidence in medical rgulator and the process of revalidation . I don’t this this going to happen in near future so expect health services to deteriorate further.

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  • This will not end easily. Holding institutions to account is ultimately opaque and dissatisfying, people want a head on a plate. And institutions run by white males are biased against putting white heads on plates. The NHS and it’s corollary organisations suffer the same subtle but vital and extensive racism that is rife within the otherwise relatively tolerant UK. White leaders just have more empathy and sympathy for their white colleagues. In a way this is perfectly natural. It’s a base bias written into human development to have sympathy and empathy for those that look like you, but this results in a lack of that same sympathy and empathy for non-whites, creating a very real predilection to scapegoat and destroy non-whites for circumstances and issues that whites walk away from unscathed on a regular basis. It’s not an overt placard-holding racism so it’s hard to see: it’s hard to realise that one is doing it and it’s hard to realise that one is benefiting from it, and that’s why it is so hard to point at it and eradicate. If you’re white and you don’t believe this is racism, this is why you are missing it, and without necessarily meaning to at all, this is how you are helping to maintain it.

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  • I have said this before. This case is insanely, logically wrong.
    Mr Thomas QC prosecuting ' Due to their [DR BG and SN Amaro] neglect, Jack needleslessly declined to a point of no return, before transfer to another [ general] ward.
    But since he was unresponsive on admission, decline would make him completely moribund.
    He could not be transferred from CAU to Ward 28 [ Intense to low monitoring]. The prosecuting statement is insane, illogical and intrinsically contradictory and absurd, because Jack did not decline, he got better so he was transferred.
    What is wrong with British justice, Judges, Juries, QCs that can make utterly daft statements and convict someone for something that did not happen.
    Jack did decline, BUT AFTER TRANSFER, NOT BEFORE. Am I mad? How is this conviction valid on this statement absurdity, never mind all the circumstances. Please help.

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  • His pH was 50% better in deficit within one hour, he was drinking juice and at 1630 he was bouncing about. This is NOT decline nor deterioration, this is marked IMPROVEMENT. Hence the transfer.
    Poor Jack got an ACEI in the ward, which according to BNF can cause profound hypotension,the reason Dr BG had stopped it in the first place.
    Certainly, Jack who was so well at 7pm, fit for transfer to a general ward [ as assessed by another, not BG} had collapsed by 730 pm.

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  • The relationship between the medical profession and the state is broken,it seems they don't want to build bridges, without a cooperative medical profession the NHS is collapsing around us.It is going to cost the country a lot more(not just financially) to rescue the situation,personally I don't think they can now.

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  • |Anonyhamster | Locum GP|28 Dec 2018 11:01am

    Wow, you're a 'race baiter'. There is no evidence she wouldn't have been thrown under the bus anyways if she was of a different race. Yes, there is intrinsic bias everywhere, like you say, it's human nature. If you're so hung up about racial discrimination, there are far bigger causes to champion. Just look at South Africa. Point of note: I don't see many whites immigrating there eh. Judge everyone and every case as an individual is the only way to solve it, and the West is further along the road to this solution by far.

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  • Jack's death, sadly, was NOT 'needless' or 'avoidable', necessarily (of sepsis). From the court transcripts, he died, not of sepsis, but of a drug given by his mother contrary to Dr B-G's orders. The parents want someone else to be responsible so that his mother does not feel the guilt of his death on her. This is also a natural want, but we should find another way to do it, rather than blame this poor doctor and nurse, who did their best, while the management caused all sorts of deficits!

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  • Let us not forget, Jack was a poor child with a very poor life expectancy, with or without sepsis, pneumonia, gastroenteritis, or ACEI poisoning, who would have returned to the hospital again in the next couple of months with another serious illness, and would have been expected to die within a couple of years anyway of his congenital conditions.

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