Why the Bawa-Garba case is worrying...


What is my truth today?

I sat down today to write out my thoughts and feelings on the Bawa-Garba case – a case that has rocked the field of medicine in the UK over the past few months – and ruined more than one family's life forever.

But as I started to write I felt increasingly uneasy...

I have a growing understanding that cases like these are incredibly complex – such a mish-mash of interweaving legitimate and necessary parts and viewpoints - that it becomes almost impossible to stand back and take a broader view. It gets harder and harder to see the wood for the trees.

I don't know the ins-and-outs of what happened on that fateful day in 2011 when a young boy lost his life. But I do know how my family felt the day we lost a boy of our own and how desperately we wanted answers and to understand who was to blame.

I don't know how to explain the events that unravelled in the aftermath of Jack Adcock's death. But I do know that they have shaken doctors across the UK to their very core – myself included.

There has been a sense for a long time that doctors who make mistakes, and particularly those who admit culpability when things go wrong (in part or in full) are increasingly vulnerable to attack and recrimination – in their workplaces, from their regulator and in the public arena. And I can tell you, as a doctor, it doesn't feel good.

I can tell you form my perspective as an expert in doctors' wellbeing that I am also deeply concerned about the impact the Bawa-Garba case is having on the wellbeing of doctors across the UK.

Doctors in the UK have been feeling under pressure for a long time. Many tell me they feel scared to go to work – afraid that the smallest error could cost them their job, their purpose, their security, their privacy, their health, even their life. A significant proportion of our most dedicated, driven, compassionate and capable doctors are fighting to get through their day with this heavy burden of anxiety and fear hanging around their necks like stone lanyards.

I can echo what many have written over this past week – that I too could be Dr Bawa-Garba. It could be me struck-off the medical register, my reputation in tatters, my life turned upside down – because I tried to learn from mistakes I made in extraordinary circumstances.

I have made mistakes at work. We all have. Any doctor who says otherwise is simply lying. I have been fortunate (thus far) not to face any major life-changing consequences of my mistakes – I have been supported and allowed to reflect with honesty and candour which I believe has ultimately made me a better doctor – less likely to make such mistakes again.

I would love to proudly declare that I have never caused the death of a patient – but like every other doctor - I am aware that I may well have done that which we spend a lifetime of study avoiding – killed a patient without even realising it. We don't always find out the consequences of the prescriptions we write or the diagnoses we miss. The average doctor treats thousands of patients in their lifetime and the simple law of averages means we are likely to cause the untimely demise of some of those in our care.

I agree that the public need to be protected from the care of doctors who show sustained patterns of incompetency and dangerousness - or even uncharacteristic yet gravely serious misconduct. But if the manner in which this is achieved only serves to frighten the vast majority of doctors into hiding their mistakes and fudging their reflections then the ones who will ultimately suffer are our patients and more people will die.Why the Bawa-Garba Case 


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