Medics Turn Fury towards GMC Head as Doctor Struck off Medical Register Wins Appeal

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Wednesday 29th August 2018

Medical professionals have called for the General Medical Council’s chief executive to resign after the successful appeal of a doctor struck off the medical register has increased pressure on how he and the GMC handled the case. Dr Hazida Bawa-Garba was initially suspended for a year before the GMC intervened in its Fitness to Practice system and struck her from the medical register entirely as a result of circumstances surrounding the death of Jack Adcock in 2011.

Medical staff and doctors have called Charlie Massey’s position as the GMC’s chief executive “untenable” as a result of how it handled the case and the questionable precedent it set.

The case in question surrounded the unfortunate death of the six year old Jack as a result of undiagnosed sepsis, after being brought in 11 hours previously. Bawa-Garba was convicted in 2015 of manslaughter by gross negligence along with nurse Isabel Amaro and received a two year suspended prison sentence. In June 2017 Bawa-Garba was suspended for a year, however in January this year Bawa-Garba was struck off the medical register permanently.

There were several concerns regarding these trials. The first was more general, in that Bawa-Garba was seen as up until Adcock’s death had an excellent medical record and was in the top third of her intake, and that a number of systematic errors, pressures and the context of being a junior doctor in an understaffed hospital were de-emphasised or outright ignored in order to convict Bawa-Garba and Amaro specifically, as well as strike her off the register, thus exacerbating the culture of blame and fear in the NHS.

The first was the use of entries in Bawa-Garba’s e-portfolio as evidence against her. Reflective learning is a key component of training and professional development in healthcare, and the fact that her reflective learning being used to convict her created a chilling effect, as clinical professionals would then be reluctant to be completely honest in their learning in case it lead to them losing their job or even end up with a criminal record. This has led to a number of reforms by the government in direct response to the case.

The GMC’s position in all this was that by their pursuit to place the blame on Dr Bawa-Garba, they were ignoring significant systematic issues such as understaffing of hospitals. Dr Bawa-Garba’s reinstatement is seen as a vindication, not just of her but of many medical professionals concerned of the implications of her conviction. The HCSA (Hospital Consultants and Specialists association) have claimed that as a result confidence in the medical profession in the GMC has collapsed and have subsequently called for Mr Massey to resign, arguing that the GMC chief executive had not at any point taken responsibility for his actions.

The GMC, through a spokesperson noted that they accepted the judgement of the Court of Appeal, and that they do not take any of the difficult decisions they make lightly.

That is unlikely to satisfy many doctors calling for Massey’s departure, as he has now become a symbol of the culture of blame that leads to the criminalising of honest mistakes.