On behalf of hospital doctors, HCSA salutes the determination of Dr Bawa-Garba and her supporters who have helped secure an outcome which will be applauded the length and breadth of the country. Today’s Court of Appeal victory truly is a win on behalf of all doctors.
It places the emphasis correctly on assessing professional competence, and rejects the GMC attempt to establish an illegitimate process which would see medics automatically struck off following a gross negligence manslaughter conviction, no matter the systemic or other extenuating circumstances.
This is a case that should not have ended up in Court, a wholly inappropriate forum for deciding the fitness to practice of medical professionals. Indeed, in their ruling the judges highlight the expert nature of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service in assessing competence in such cases, which is quite different from criminal culpability under the current loosely defined Gross Negligence Manslaughter law.
While this case has its roots in the tragic death of young Jack Adcock, today’s judgement underlines that there can be no artificial test of professional competence. It supports HCSA’s view that any decision on fitness to practice must be based on an individual’s clinical ability.
In their ruling the judges underline the Professional Standards Authority view that “no concerns have ever been raised about the clinical competency of Dr Bawa-Garba, other than in relation to Jack’s death.” The GMC must now reflect on its own competency and processes, and take action to tackle the culture which needlessly dragged this young doctor through the courts.
Today’s victory cannot erase the emotional and psychological impact of this drawn-out, extremely public disciplinary process. However, it is a tremendous conclusion to a campaign by Dr Bawa-Garba and her supporters which has had far wider ramifications, prompting not one but two major reviews to date.
HCSA is clear that trainee doctors such as Hadiza should never again find themselves in the firing line when there are clear systemic issues at fault, and where they are under the guidance of more senior doctors. We have therefore argued that juniors should have special protection in order to prevent charges apart from in the most egregious cases, and that personal reflections are formally excluded from legal process.
In our submission to the GMC’s Marx review, HCSA also called for a new system of independent investigation by a statutory medical investigatory board to encompass systemic issues, a specialised police team focused on the clinical setting, and a new law with a higher legal bar, with cases assessed by the Attorney-General. These measures would help to secure justice both for families and victims, and professionals, but crucially they would also compel corrective action where necessary to ensure incidents are never repeated.
But these are battles for tomorrow. As for today: Hadiza, thank you. Thank you, and we wish you a long and successful career in years to come.