Britain’s NHS Lowers Standards, Doctors Who Kill Patients Will Keep Jobs and ‘Learn from Mistakes’

Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Britain’s Nationa Health Service (NHS) will lower its standards by making it harder to sack doctors who kill their patients. This follows claims that sanctions are having a “chilling effect” on the profession — despite recent, high-profile failures being allowed to slide without punishment.

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt will remove the powers of the General Medical Council (GMC) to appeal against rulings of the Medical Practitioners’ Tribunal Service (MPTS), after a tribunal ruled Dr. Hadiza Bawa-Garba could continue to practice despite a conviction for the manslaughter of a six-year-old boy due to gross negligence. But the GMC successfully appealed for her to be struck off.

The mother of the dead boy welcomed Bawa-Garba’s conviction and removal from the medical register as “justice”, but doctors protested strongly. Hunt has accepted the findings of a doctor-led review which concluded that medics should only be punished if their performance was “truly exceptionally bad”, according to the Daily Mail.

“I was deeply concerned about the unintended chilling effect on clinicians’ ability to learn from mistakes following recent court rulings, and the actions from this authoritative review will help us promise them that the NHS will support them to learn, rather than seek to blame,” said the Health Secretary.

While Bawa-Garba and her supporters have claimed she faced difficult circumstances, many members of the public will find the contention that the authorities are particularly zealous in pursuing negligent clinicians questionable, given several high-profile failings which have gone unpunished recently.

Earlier this month, Dr. Vaishnavy Laxman escaped being prosecuted, struck off, or even given a formal warning by the Medical Practitioners’ Tribunal Service despite being found guilty of medical misconduct for ripping a baby’s head off during a botched delivery.

Laxman, who qualified in Chennai, India, attempted to deliver the premature baby while he was in breech position over the objections of the mother, who was just 4 cm dilated (full dilation is 10cm) and had been assured she would be given a caesarian section “if something happened”.

The baby died after his head became entrapped, and was decapitated following Laxman’s “increasingly desperate” attempts to pull him out. Laxman’s colleagues had to perform a C-section to retrieve the head and stitch it back on to the child, so the mother could say goodbye.

Similarly, a Newport GP who turned away a 5-year-old girl with a life-threatening illness from an emergency appointment without even looking at her file was allowed to return to work after receiving a slap on the wrist in a secret hearing.

Dr. Joanne Rowe, described as “unapproachable and volatile, even more so on the days she is on call” in the report on her conduct, refused to see 5-year-old Ellie-May because she was a few minutes late for her appointment, due to a queue at the reception desk.

This was despite the GP starting her appointments 15 minutes late that day, only filling 11 out of 15 patient slots, and only spending an average of 7.5 minutes out of an allotted 10 minutes with each of the patients she did see.

Ellie-May had been in and out of hospital for her condition several times, and Rowe had previously received a letter from a consultant warning she was at risk of “an episode of severe/life-threatening asthma”.

The little girl, who cried and asked her mother why the doctor would not see her after being turned away, was found having a coughing fit later that night.

“She fell off her bed onto the floor,” her mother told an inquest. “I turned her light on and I saw her hands and her face were blue.”

She died from bronchial asthma and a possible seizure due to a lack of oxygen shortly after arriving at hospital.

Rowe was suspended for six weeks while an investigation was carried out — on full pay — but allowed to return to practice with a warning which will be expunged from her public record in 2021.

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