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After the storm, what now for Dr Bawa-Garba?

punam krishan 3 x 2

I couldn’t sleep last night. My head was buzzing after a day of unexpected anxiety. It was more than the usual I would feel, what with being a full time doctor and mum who has become accustomed to juggling the many balls thrown at her at any given time.

Yesterday was a critical day for us doctors working in the NHS. In between patients, unable to settle, I refreshed my Twitter feed countless times as I waited, alongside thousands of people across the world, for the result of Dr Bawa-Garba’s appeal. A fellow doctor, who had been unfairly criminalised, charged with gross negligence manslaughter after the tragic death of a six year old boy, and subsequently erased from the medical register. In the end, Dr Bawa-Garba won a long-fought battle for justice.

I had presumed that I would feel relief, joy and gratitude upon hearing this result. As doctors, we have supported Hadiza and fought with her in the battle against unfair scapegoating of an individual unfortunate to have been caught up in the storm of an overstretched healthcare system.

Upon hearing the outcome, I breathed a sigh of relief, but there was no joy, no gratitude, no desire to celebrate. Instead, several hours later, I found myself feeling restless, angry and very sad. A little boy died and a doctor was dragged through the mud whilst senior authorities walked away untouched. Had justice really prevailed, I began to question again?

It will be incredibly difficult for Hadiza to re-integrate back into the medical world again

Watching the moving Panorama documentary about her case last night, I couldn’t help but cry listening to Hadiza talk of her lifelong dream to become a doctor and I felt the rawness in her apology for her contribution to the death of little Jack. She literally and very easily could have been me.

I am the mother of a five-year-old. I remember clearly returning to work after maternity leave and it was so tough. You leave work to have a baby and return back to it with another title and responsibilities added to your role. The system sadly doesn’t accommodate this well. It’s challenging being a working parent but as doctors we literally live on the edge every time we walk into work, knowing fine well that if we make a mistake, someone could die. This is haunting enough without the added pressures at home.

When Hadiza returned to work from maternity leave, she had three young children at home. Since then she became embroiled in a painfully long and grossly unfair trial and conviction. What impact must this have had on her family? I quiver.

In five years, I’ve watched my child grow and I have enjoyed this time with him despite the daily high pressured job I do as a doctor. I wonder if Hadiza can say the same? Has she been able to enjoy her time off away from the NHS? Or has she been experiencing anxiety, fear, shame and guilt? I can’t help but think of the impact this must have had on her family. She will never get that time back with them, another death of something very precious. All because the system needed someone to blame?

And when I think of Hadiza right now sitting in her house with her family, I wonder if she is celebrating? Is she relieved? Or terrified about what’s next? Equally, as a mother, I feel an emptiness when I think of Jack’s family and how they must be feeling. I could not imagine losing my baby, especially knowing it could have been prevented. Their grief has become ours. Jack will never be forgotten.

Hadiza will soon be thinking about going back to work. Returning to work after annual leave is often strained. Returning after maternity leave or sickness is challenging. How would it feel going back to work after being Dr Bawa-Garba? Will the public allow her to be their doctor? Will she trust the system again?

It will be incredibly difficult for Hadiza to re-integrate back into the medical world again. However, it took failings of a Trust and authorities to bring her down, and it is now the responsibility of the Trust and authorities to raise her up again. As a profession, we must continue to support, encourage and stand with her during this time. This is resilience in action.

I pray that by the time Hadiza is ready to return back to work, the public will have had time to soak in the real details of the case and recognise that she did not intend to harm. That she is in fact a good doctor who happened to make a mistake, one that painfully demonstrated the complexities of the medical profession and just why being a doctor is no mean feat.

Dr Punam Krishan is a sessional GP in Glasgow