Saturday 10 March 2018

Why are doctors being convicted?

Paediatrician Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba and surgeon Mr David Sellu were both convicted of gross negligence manslaughter in the courts of Mr Justice Nicol in 2015. Mr Sellu's conviction was quashed on appeal. Following the GMC's decision to remove Dr Bawa-Garba from the medical register, there has been widespread condemnation of her original conviction by the medical community.

By Blogtrepreneur (Legal Gavel) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What are the key components of the mistreatment of these well-meaning doctors?

1) Sick people sometimes die before doctors can save them
2) Risk intolerance
3) Culture of blaming individuals fuelled by courts and GMC
4) Under-resourcing

These cases tragically highlight the problem with the popular view that no risk is acceptable, medicine can treat everything and if anyone dies after seeing a doctor it is the doctor's fault, usually for not responding quickly enough.

The logical response to this argument is indeed to assess people more thoroughly and treat them more quickly. Most doctors are well aware that all tests and treatments carry risk and cost money and time that taxpayers are unwilling to provide the NHS with.

The reality is that, unpredictably, people become very sick, especially if they have other medical problems and, despite the best efforts of doctors and nurses with the dwindling resources available to them, sometimes, tragically, they die.

The instinct to apportion blame is an entirely understandable component of a grief reaction but is a poor basis for policymaking.

Indeed, blaming individuals discourages candid reflection and identifying the numerous failings across a system usually to be found when errors do occur.

Unfortunately, instead of looking at the all important bigger picture, our courts, the GMC and politicians have all conspired to fuel this blame culture and make patients less safe. The courts rely on evidence not of a doctor's peers at the short-staffed, cash-strapped coalface but disease experts who expect perfection and more. In the Bawa-Garba case, the GMC too yielded to the rule of the mob by rejecting the nuanced view of the doctors of its Medical Practitioner Tribunal Service and instead relied solely upon the arguably flawed judgement of the court. And politicians routinely promise more, better and faster treatment without finding the much-needed money.

Our society has killed the NHS. It must now decide what will rise out of the ashes.