Lessons Must be Learnt in Order to Improve Patient Safety

By Yasmin Ameer

Senior Associate

In a controversial ruling, a doctor who was struck off the medical register over the death of a six-year-old boy has won her appeal to practise medicine.

Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, a junior doctor specialising in paediatrics, was convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence in 2015 over the death of Jack Adcock, who died of sepsis at Leicester Royal Infirmary in 2011.

Dr Bawa-Garba had originally diagnosed the six-year-old with gastroenteritis and failed to realise from blood tests that Jack had sepsis, or review chest X-rays that indicated he had a chest infection.

Dr Bawa-Garba was suspended from the medical register for a year in June 2017. However, the General Medical Council (GMC) appealed against the decision claiming it was ‘not sufficient to protect the public’ and she was struck off in January 2018. The Court of Appeal has now quashed the High Court’s decision, ruling against the GMC, and she is being restored to the register.

The Court of Appeal’s ruling has been welcomed by doctors who believe that Dr Bawa-Garba had been used as a scapegoat for systemic failure.

The Doctors’ Association, which has campaigned for Dr Bawa-Garba, said the system was ‘at breaking point’ and called the GMC’s efforts to have her struck off a ‘serious error of judgement’.

Thousands of doctors also signed a letter of support for Dr Bawa-Garba saying the case would ‘lessen our chances of preventing a similar death’.

Despite the support Dr Bawa-Garba has received, there is no disputing that serious mistakes were made in this case and a young boy died. The original trial in 2015 heard the boy’s death was caused by ‘serious neglect’ by staff who failed to recognise his body was ‘shutting down’ and close to death.

While it is right for doctors to seek protection, our primary concern is patient wellbeing. As medical negligence specialists, we have seen on many occasions how an incorrect or delayed diagnosis can make the difference between a full recovery and permanent harm or death. Lessons must be learnt from this case. Patient safety must always come first.