Young doctors claim to have been discouraged from a GP career based on the High Court’s findings against Dr Philip Mitchell earlier this month.
20-year-old Evie Toombes, who has a rare neural tube defect called lipomyelomeningocele, successfully argued that she should not have been born – and that Dr Mitchell was at fault for not advising her mother to take pre-conception folic acid supplements.
Following the ground-breaking legal case, nearly 500 doctors have signed a ‘Wall of Support’ for Dr Mitchell, expressing anxiety about the future ramifications of the case on their careers.
The wall was set up by Doctors’ Association UK, which has collaborated with The On-Call Room, NHS Million and GP Survival to support Dr Mitchell and his family.
It comes as NHS Resolution, which has covered the legal costs and will also pay damages to Ms Toombes, said this week it accepted the verdict.
Dr Mitchell’s law firm, Clyde & Co, explained that the decision not to appeal was based on the specific nature of the case – whereby a pre-trial judge had decided not to allow expert witnesses to give evidence.
But GP Survival chair Dr John Hughes said: ‘We are concerned to see many comments from junior doctors suggesting that this judgement makes them less likely to choose GP as a career option, and from established GPs saying this has strengthened their intention to retire early, both worsening the crisis in a profession with significant workforce shortage.’
A doctor named Ceri wrote on the forum: ‘I am appalled and saddened by this judgement. For a junior doctor like myself it really only serves to cause anxiety and put me off choosing general practice as a career option.’
And a Dr Hannah Morgan said: ‘As a junior doctor just a few years into my career and with many friends who are GPs, I am fearful of what the future holds for doctors if cases like this continue to occur.’
Commenting, DAUK chair Dr Jenny Vaughan said: ‘We sincerely hope that the Toombes v. Mitchell ruling last week will not have a negative impact on the complex trust relationship that exists within every consultation which is essential for a caring and compassionate health service.
Dr Vaughan said they ‘recognise that young people born with a disability have many challenges to overcome’ but added: ‘We have been contacted by hundreds of doctors who have great concerns that this judgement may promote defensive medicine at a time when we are all under pressure to see more patients in less time in an increasingly unsustainable system.’
Dr Mitchell said he had been ‘really touched by and so very appreciative of the kind words of support posted on the wall by colleagues and interested members of the public’.
‘I am fortunate to be in such a strong position benefitting from a caring family, friends and a supportive work place. ‘
And he said that although the ‘last five years have been difficult for a number of reasons both professionally and personally’ in the ‘last 12 months I have found a satisfaction at work that I thought I would never appreciate again despite the looming trial’.
He added: ‘Reflecting on this, I have re-examined my own motives and values that underpin my professional and personal beliefs. I recognise that it remains a rare privilege in this society to be in a job where mutual trust remains not only vital for the health of a care system but also to my sense of satisfaction.’
He added: ‘I sincerely hope that the ruling last week will not have a negative impact on the complex trust relationship that exists within every consultation that is essential for a caring and compassionate health service.’