The GMC will take the unusual step of bringing its own tribunal in front of the High Court this week to appeal its decision not to strike off a trainee doctor from its register.
The Medical Practitioner Tribunal Service decided in June that erasing trainee paediatrician Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba from the register would be ‘disproportionate’ and recommended a 12-month suspension instead.
But the GMC disagrees with the ruling of its own tribunal, saying that it was ‘insufficient to protect the public’ and has brought the case to the High Court to overturn the decision.
The GMC’s actions in the case have already ignited controversy, with a group of 50 doctors writing to the head of the GMC last month with ‘grave concerns’ over the case, claiming a successful appeal would lead to the ‘criminalisation of clinical error’ and would worsen patient safety.
And over 10,300 people have signed a petition calling for the GMC to drop the appeal, due to be heard in less than a week.
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.’ It concluded that Dr Bawa-Garba should be suspended from the register ‘for a maximum of 12 months’.
But the GMC has decided to appeal the decision and the case will be heard in the High Court on Thursday.
A GMC spokesperson said: ‘We never take the decision to appeal lightly and we only do so if, after careful consideration of all of the relevant circumstances, we conclude that a Medical Practitioners Tribunal’s decision was insufficient to protect the public.’
Last month, a letter from over 50 doctors to GMC chair Professor Terence Stephenson highlighted that an internal inquiry found 79 organisational actions that had to be made.
It says: ‘We feel there is a danger when any individual health care professional is independently blamed in a situation of multiple cumulative systems errors. Punishment of health care workers does not encourage open reflection and will lead to a cover-up culture. There is a staffing crisis in many acute specialities including paediatrics and the criminalisation of clinical error serves to worsen recruitment to high risk specialities.’
‘A successful appeal may simply send all the wrong signals to those wishing to enter a career in paediatrics and indeed health care. The criminalisation of multifactional medical error is the antithesis of a just culture and will serve to worsen learning from events and ultimately patient safety.’