Health Policy

06.02.18

Hunt orders review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare

Jeremy Hunt has ordered an urgent review into how gross negligence manslaughter is applied in healthcare, amidst concerns over the Dr Bawa-Garba case.

In 2015 Hadiza Bawa-Garba was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence and suspended from the medical register for 12 months, following the death of a six year old boy.

Last month the General Medical Council (GMC) won a High Court appeal, which meant that the junior doctor was permanently erased from the register.

Thousands of medics have responded, arguing that the conviction ignored NHS failings and staff shortages which contributed to the child’s death.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, MP Dr Caroline Johnson said that she has seen the negative impact that this case has had on reflective learning in practice.

The health and social care secretary, who has previously expressed concerns over the Bawa-Garba case, said that there are concerns that doctors who want the freedom to learn from mistakes may not have a voice.

“The recent Dr. Bawa-Garba case has caused huge concern,” he told the House of Commons.

“Today I can announce that I’ve asked Professor Sir Norman Williams, former president of the Royal College of Surgeons, my senior clinical advisor, to conduct a rapid review in to the application of gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare.”

Williams will work alongside senior lawyers to establish how to ensure that reflective learning continues and mistakes are not covered up, and any lessons that need to be learned by the GMC.

Hunt continued: “How we ensure clarity in where the line is drawn between gloss negligence manslaughter and ornery human error in medical practice so that doctors and other health professionals know where they stand in respect to criminal liability and professional misconduct.”

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, has welcomed the review: “The issues around gross negligence manslaughter within healthcare have been present for a number of years, and we have been engaged in constructive discussions with medical leaders on this issue.”

He added that the GMC’s work, which explores how gross negligence manslaughter or its equivalent in the devolved nations is applied to medical practice, will include a “renewed focus” on reflection and the provision of support for doctors in raising concerns.

“Doctors are working in extremely challenging conditions, and we recognise that any doctor can make a mistake, particularly when working under pressure,” he continued.

“We know that we cannot immediately resolve all of the profession’s concerns, but we are determined to do everything possible to bring positive improvements out of this issue.

Dr. Rob Hendry, medical director at the Medical Protection Society, said: “Gross negligence manslaughter cases are usually complex, involve systems failures, and are devastating for all concerned.

“A conviction should not automatically mean that a doctor who has fully remediated and demonstrated insight into their clinical failings is erased.”

He concluded: “The strength of feeling on the outcome of the Dr Bawa-Garba case, and the deep concern around its impact on an open, learning culture in healthcare, has been clear to see.

“We are pleased that these concerns, and the need to identify learnings, have been acknowledged by the secretary of state.”

The report is expected to be completed by the end of April 2018.

Top image: Joe Giddens PA Archive

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