The Bawa-Garba Case:
In February 2011, Jack Adcock, a six year old who had Down’s Syndrome and a known heart condition was admitted to hospital following referral by his GP. He was seen by Dr. Hadiza Bawa-Garba, a trainee paediatrician in her sixth year of speciality training. Later that day, Jack’s condition deteriorated and he passed away. Bawa-Garba, a doctor with an impeccable record prior to this event, was deemed guilty of gross negligence manslaughterof a child who was under her care. The Medical Practitioners’ Tribunal services suggested a 12 month suspension from the GMC medical register. However, the GMC fought to appeal this decision which resulted in Bawa-Garba being erased from the medical register for UK doctors - thereby preventing her from working as a doctor.
Mistakes were made during Jack’s time under her care. However, to what extent were they entirely Bawa-Garba’s fault?
Dr. Bawa-Garba, a convenient scapegoat for a failing NHS?
Bawa-Garba had just returned from a 13 month maternity break and resumed work at an unfamiliar hospital with no formal induction. Her department was understaffed and with her consultant and registrar on leave, she was expected to take on their roles whilst supervising two junior doctors. To add, computer systems were down that day so Bawa-Garba had no access to Jack’s blood results or x-ray results until later in the afternoon. Although mistakes were made, some say that perhaps if the hospital had been staffed correctly and the right administrative and technical systems were in place, things could have turned out differently.
So could it be that Dr. Bawa-Garba has been used as a scapegoat for systemic failings within the NHS?
Can we blame racial disparities?
There have been several occasions where white doctors have had charges against them dropped despite being involved in cases similar to that of Dr Bawa-Garba. We see misconduct being overlooked and even under-reporting’s of patients exposed to poor practice to the GMC. GMC research found that doctors who obtained their primary medical qualification outside the UK and/or from a BME background are more likely to receive fitness-to-practice complaints than their white counterparts. An example of this is the case of Mr Ian Paterson, a breast surgeon who conducted improper surgery for several years (1997-2011). Mr Ian Paterson has only recently been found guilty of 17 counts of wounding with intent. Dr Ramesh Mehta, president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) told GPonline that “… if Dr Bawa-Garba was white she wouldn’t have landed in such deep trouble”
My thoughts as a Medical Student
Cases such as Bawa-Garba’s make me worried about my future as a doctor working in the NHS. The thought of making a single error of judgement and then seeing the consequence that it has on my patient and then myself is terrifying. I also worry that I may be more susceptible to harsher scrutiny as a woman of African descent. Nonetheless, I do hope to see more workstreams that address racial inequalities in the medical profession and a greater presence of support and safe spaces for doctors
Is Bawa-Garba’s case an illustration of the discrimination against BME doctors within the NHS?
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts about this case!