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GMC relationship with doctors ‘severely damaged’ following Bawa-Garba case

The GMC should acknowledge its relationship with doctors has been ‘severely damaged’ from the Bawa-Garba case and ‘must learn’ from it, a major review has said.

The long-awaited independent review of gross negligence, manslaughter and culpable homicide said the GMC should take ‘immediate steps’ to rebuild doctors’ trust after they were damaged by the regulator’s handling of the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba.

It also found a ‘lack of confidence’ in the regulator due to its focus on individual blame. 

The review was commissioned by the GMC following the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock in 2011, which led to the prosecution and conviction of Dr Bawa-Garba for gross negligence and manslaughter.

It found that there was a ‘loss of confidence’ in the GMC from doctors following this case, which saw GMC appeal against the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service decision and pursue Dr Bawa-Garba’s removal from the register.

The chair of the review, Dr Leslie Hamilton, said: ‘The decision of the GMC to seek this doctor’s erasure from the medical register following her criminal conviction caused consternation and outrage across large sections of the medial profession in the UK and overseas.

‘Some described it as “toxic fear”. Many questioned why an individual trainee working under pressure should carry the blame for what they considered to be wider systemic failings within her working environment.’

Dr Hamilton said this case was part of a ‘more fundamental loss of confidence’ in the GMC, which stems from a system structured to apportion individual blame rather than to learn from events.

The report said: ‘Many doctors feel unfairly vulnerable to criminal and regulatory proceedings should they make a mistake which leads to a patient being harmed.’

‘The depth of this feeling has resulted in a breakdown in the relationship between many doctors and their regulator.’

Chief executive of the GMC Charlie Massey said they ‘fully accept’ the challenge to rebuild the trust with the profession, and admitted the case has ‘undoubtedly’ affected their relationship with doctors.

He said: ‘We share this report’s desire for a just culture in healthcare and acknowledge that we have a crucial role in making that happen. We are already making progress. Work is underway to address some of the key issues raised in this report but there is plenty more for us to do.’

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

Dr Hamilton added there had repeatedly been calls for change from patient safety experts over the past 20 years, but he hoped this review would be the ‘tipping point’ for change.

The review made 29 recommendations to ‘enhance patient safety’, including improving systems and legislation surrounding healthcare professionals’ regulation.

It follows the news that GMC will roll out changes to how it handles one-off mistakes by GPs and other doctors.