A legal judgment overturning the decision to remove Hadiza Bawa-Garba from the Medical Register has been welcomed by the BMA.
The court of appeal today overturned the high court’s decision to remove Dr Bawa-Garba from the Medical Register, restoring the decision by the MPTS (Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service) to suspend her for one year.
BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul welcomed the judgment, which he said reasserted the MPTS’s authority in making professional decisions about doctors, adding that the association had sought to intervene in the case on behalf of the entire medical profession.
He said: ‘Today’s judgment vindicates the BMA’s position that the MPTS is the right body to determine a doctor’s future in these complex and difficult cases, in which wider systemic pressures affecting patient safety need to be considered. It demonstrates that our call, acted on by the Government, to remove the GMC’s right of appeal of MPTS decisions, was the right one.
‘It also raises serious questions over the GMC’s ill-judged handling of the case. As a regulator it has lost the confidence of doctors and must now act to rectify their relationship with profession.
In welcoming the court’s judgment, Dr Nagpaul said that it was vital that the tragedy at the centre of the case; the death of a young patient, was not forgotten, and that the wider issue of pressure on the doctors and the health service was not overlooked.
He said: ‘Today’s successful appeal in no way detracts from the tragic circumstances of this case and the unexpected death of a young boy, and we once again send our deepest condolences to Jack Adcock’s family.
‘Lessons must be learnt from this case which raises wider issues about the multiple factors that affect patient safety in an NHS under extreme pressure rather than narrowly focusing only on individuals.
‘Today’s judgment is a wake-up call for the Government that action is urgently needed to properly resource the NHS and address the systemic pressures and constraints that doctors are working under and which compromise the delivery of high-quality, safe patient care.’
A year to life
Paediatrics trainee Dr Bawa-Garba was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter in 2015.
Following her conviction, she was suspended from practice for one year by the MPTS but an appeal against this decision by the GMC saw her permanently removed from the register in January this year.
The ruling prompted widespread outcry among members of the medical profession and the BMA, and led to urgent discussions between the association, GMC and the Government, over the wider implications of the judgment.
Lawyers representing Dr Bawa-Garba last month at the court of appeal had argued that the decision to remove her from the Medical Register, on the grounds of promoting and maintaining public confidence in the medical profession, had been flawed.
Outlining the court’s judgment, Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton, said that the divisional court had been wrong to interfere with the MPTS decision to suspend rather than erase Dr Bawa-Garba.
He added that an appeals court should generally be cautious when interfering with ‘evaluative decisions’ made by tribunals, particularly ‘in the case of a specialist, adjudicative body’ such as the MPTS.
He said: ‘The court of appeal unanimously allows the appeal. It holds that the divisional court was wrong to interfere with the decision of the tribunal.
‘The court of appeal sets aside the order of the divisional court that Dr Bawa-Garba should be erased from the Medical Register and restores the order of the tribunal that she be suspended from practice for 12 months subject to review.’
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘We fully accept the court of appeal’s judgment. This was a case of the tragic death of a child, and the consequent criminal conviction of a doctor. It was important to clarify the different roles of criminal courts and disciplinary tribunals in cases of gross negligence manslaughter, and we will carefully examine the court’s decision to see what lessons can be learnt.
‘Although gross negligence manslaughter cases in medicine are extremely rare, this case has exposed a raft of concerns, particularly around the role of criminal law in medicine, which is why we have commissioned an independent review to look at how it is applied in situations where the risk of death is a constant, and in the context of systemic pressure.’