'Dr Bawa-Garba could have been any one of us'
Dr Punam Krishan reflects on a ruling with potentially enormous ramifications for all doctors
In many ways words come easily, in many more ways words cannot be expressed in any comprehensible manner.
As a passionate and dedicated doctor and as an equally tired and often exhausted mother, I read the verdicts of our GMC and judicial system about a fellow doctor mum with gut wrenching sorrow and insurmountable rage.
A little baby has died, never an outcome wished by anybody. I cannot imagine how the family are feeling and truly pray that wee Jack rests in peace. On the other side, there is a mother who has been robbed of her entire existence with a criminal record and is now a blacklisted doctor. How is she? What is her life now? What future do her kids have? I cannot even try to imagine the darkness over this family. A death of many sorts, something that has left us - as a nation - numb.
This could have been me. It could have been my friend. It could have been any doctor anywhere in the world who goes out to work everyday with the sole intention to do no harm. Never does it cross our minds that anything less than perfect is acceptable. We are intuitively this type of person. This then gets engrained through military medical training and further through our daily practise. We do not want to harm.
Left hung out to dry by a blame culture profession and an unforgiving society, this is the fate of medics today
We wake up in panic, we obsess over detail. We cry into our pillows and pray only to deliver our best. Many of us end up on medication to manage our work related anxieties because we are terrified of this very outcome that we have watched take place in modern day Britain today.
To go beyond the duty of care is a concept we understand, for we do it on repeat every single day. We leave our own babies, our own elderly, unwell or vulnerable relatives, our own domestic turmoils at home to come out and take care of all of yours. Is this even a consideration for mankind these days?
I understand, from speaking to several paediatric colleagues, that Dr Bawa-Garba was arrested two weeks post-partum, torn away from her exclusively breastfed baby on a charge of manslaughter. Questioned for over seven hours, putting her own baby at risk of dehydration, this has been allowed in our country today. Is this what our society now accepts as right? Prior to this the same people would have praised her for being an exceptional and outstanding doctor. Left hung out to dry by a blame culture profession and an unforgiving society, this is the fate of medics today.
We are doctors. We are not God. We are not superheroes and do not have special powers to transform life. We can also make mistakes but the difference between our job and every other person’s job out there, is that our mistakes can directly harm life.
That is why when we say, ‘we are tired working these horrifically long hours back to back’, the government needs to listen to us. When we say we are hungry, having not had a bite to eat in 12 hours, management needs to factor in time for our breaks so we can feed ourselves. When we are stressed, the NHS must recognise the need for support to be given to us. If we cannot have these basic rights, how can we be expected to perform at 110%? How can we never misjudge or make an inadvertent error? We are struggling as a profession and yet today we witness brutality to someone who was trying her best to medically manage many sick patients without any senior support.
Even at a supermarket checkout, one customer gets managed at a time. Everyone is happy to wait their turn. People still go off sick with stress. We manage a hundred patients a day, sometimes at the same time. We have hundreds of results thrown at us all to be actioned there and then. We have bleeps going off every few minutes, charts being presented, relatives questioning, managers moaning and not to mention the ticking clock constantly echoing in our ears. We are one person. Help us.
We don’t moan for money, we moan for our sanity because long after our patients leave us, we still go over their story in our heads and reflect on anything else we could’ve done to be that extra bit more perfect.
We get let down by everyone and are respected by few. The only one thing we all had until now was hope that our own medical council would look out for us; that our council would review the blame culture and understand a team is what delivers good patient care, not an individual person. Our council needs to look beyond inaccurate data and look at the facts without fear of what ‘everyone will think’.
For the public to understand, we do what our medical council set out for us as good medical practice. We can recite these principles for they are our daily mantra. We do our annual appraisal and we log our personal development journey, which is experiential. We are the most self-critical beings out there who are constantly striving for perfection. We rarely compliment ourselves but rather focus on our flaws. But now we learn that all of this could actually be used as evidence to condemn us of crime in the absence of professional integrity by fellow colleagues. Wow!
Moving forward, shall we be practicing defensive medicine or shall we be doing the right thing? Will the right thing cause us harm later down the line? We are truly damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I don’t think a junior doctor will ever want to reflect again which is a sad sad loss to what was a highly effective and useful personal development tool.
A message to those senior doctors too who are out there, who may find it easy to sleep whilst their juniors are doing their work, afraid of not wanting to disappoint their bosses. Let this case be a learning point for you. Do your job, be where you’re meant to be and never forget your professional integrity and responsibility to your trainees. They look up to us to teach them through example. Let us all work together and support one another because the powers that be will never do this. If we can’t take care of our own, we may as well all quit medicine and live with mistakes that won’t tear us away from our entire existence.
Dr Punam Krishan is a GP in Glasgow