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The GMC should not use our fees to pay Bawa-Garba legal costs

A petition has been launched to put pressure on the GMC not to use doctors’ fees to pay for its legal costs incurred in the Bawa-Garba case. One GP who has signed it explains why.

The case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba has been devastating for all those involved. It has also had far-reaching implications for clinicians, the general public and society, mostly negative and perpetuated by the GMC’s narrow minded actions.

By scapegoating individuals for human error in the context of multisystem failures, the CPS, courts and GMC have propagated a blame culture leading to fear, defensive medicine – with the increased costs and risks that entails – and low morale amongst doctors. It has also caused anger and mistrust among patients, threatening our ability to develop constructive therapeutic relationships.

Since this case, throughout every shift I work, I have a niggle at the back of my mind that if I miss a serious illness or misdiagnose a patient and there is a potentially avoidable death I risk being criminalised and struck off. This fear does not make me a better doctor; on the contrary, it makes me question whether I want to be a doctor at all.

Criminalising and striking off individual doctors and nurses for human errors especially when they have unsafe workloads, no senior support and delays receiving diagnostic results is a dystopian measure – I cannot see how it offers any benefit to society, only more suffering.

I expect my regulator to be a champion for both doctor and patient safety, to demand safe staffing levels and ensure shop floor senior support, robust IT systems and failsafe measures to ensure timely radiology and laboratory reports. This tragic case was a missed opportunity to highlight sepsis awareness and acknowledge it is a serious illness which can present atypically. The GMC could have used this as a learning tool to increase safety in acute units up and down the country, to try to prevent further tragedies like that which the Adcocks have suffered.

The GMC failed to show leadership and an appreciation of frontline realities. It has handled this case appallingly. Its punitive actions prolonged the distress of a grieving family. And as a result of its actions, doctors have lost faith in their regulator.

The GMC should acknowledge this, and apologise to both Dr Bawa-Garba and the profession.

I believe it is important for us to collectively put pressure on the GMC to take steps to repair its relationship with doctors. One step towards this is to support a petition launched by Dr Jenny Vaughan, the consultant neurologist who was part of the team that led the Justice for Hadiza campaign, and who co-founded Manslaughter and Healthcare, which is calling for the GMC not to use doctors’ registration and licensing fees to pay Dr Bawa-Garba’s court costs.

As GPs may be aware, doctors raised over £350,000 for Dr Bawa-Garba’s appeal, and the Court of Appeal ordered the GMC to pay her legal costs when it reinstated her to the medical register last month. The petition is calling on the GMC to find alternative ways to raise the money, including a review of executive salaries and the policy of providing private healthcare cover for employees.

Our fees should not be used to fund the GMC’s legal costs for this case. It is also perverse that GMC employees have private health insurance paid for by NHS doctors.

The petition has already been signed by 2,100 doctors; all the names are available on the Manslaughter and Healthcare website under the link to the petition.

I urge colleagues to sign it and support the campaign, so that lessons can be learned from this tragic case to reform our regulatory system to the benefit of all.

Anonymous GP and supporter of Justice for Hadiza