The serious implications of the case of Dr Bawa-Garba

A shockwave swept through the medical profession this week. The erasure from the medical register of Dr Bawa-Garba left many doctors thinking 'that could be me.....'.

Dr Bawa-Garba was a junior doctor working in a busy paediatric department in Leicester in 2011. She was just back from a years maternity leave and thrown straight back into acute paediatric care with doctors missing on the rota, faulty hospital equipment and far too much work/too many patients to remain a safe doctor.

Tragically, on that day a child died due to multiple failures and indeed the hospital itself admitted it had many areas it needed to improve on to prevent such an incident occurring again.

Dr Bawa-Garba was subsequently convicted of manslaughter in a court of law and given a 2 year suspended sentence. It is said the court did not take into account the serious pressures Dr Bawa-Garba faced that day.

Some time later she subsequently went through a process at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) - an independent panel who impose sanctions on doctors who have been accused of misdemeanours. That MPTS tribunal took all the evidence into account and spent hours analysing the information before them. They decided to suspend the doctor from the medical register for 12 months as an adequate penalty. She couldn't work or earn for 12 months and then had to come back to the MPTS in 12 months to give good reasons why she should be able to work again.

The General Medical Council (GMC) didn't like what the MPTS did. They now have a new power where they can appeal a decision of the MPTS. This is what they did and the outcome from the High Court last week was that Dr Bawa-Garba should be erased from the medical register - 'struck off'. She could no longer work in any capacity as a doctor for at least 5 years, no longer earn an income and would have to live with the stigma of being 'struck off'.

This sent a shockwave through the whole medical profession who now worry that they may too be struck off if they make a mistake when under serious pressure in an underfunded and under staffed NHS. Doctors are told to speak up when they feel conditions are unsafe for them at work but if they do speak out this could be used against them if a mistake is made.

Doctors are now between a rock and a hard place and much anger has been directed at the GMC asking them exactly what doctors should do nowadays in the pressured NHS - speak out, walk out, keep quiet? The law of medical manslaughter may also need revisiting and this is down to Parliament to address.

As chair of Doctors in Unite we released this statement on the issue which goes into more detail.

Many doctors are very worried now as they go to work every day wondering 'will it be me next?'

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