Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered an urgent review of gross negligence manslaughter cases following the prosecution of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba.
Dr Bawa-Garba was struck off in January following her prosecution in 2015 over the death of Jack Adcock. He died from sepsis, which went undiagnosed due to her “catalogue of errors”. She was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years.
Doctors have argued that blaming Dr Bawa-Garba ignored other factors that led to the tragedy, including low staffing levels. Some 800 doctors have signed an open letter declaring their support for Dr Bawa-Garba.
Hunt’s urgent review, which will be led by professor Sir Norman Williams, former president of the Royal College of Surgeons, and will report back by April, will examine “how we ensure there is clarity about where the line is drawn between gross negligence manslaughter and ordinary human error in medical practice so that doctors and other healthcare professionals know where they stand with respect to criminal liability or professional misconduct”.
The review will look at any lessons that need to be learned by the General Medical Council and other regulators. It will also consider how learning, openness and transparency can be protected, and provide clarity to doctors over criminal liability and professional misconduct.
Hunt said: “The only way we can reduce mistakes in the NHS is to learn from every single one, and the tragic case of Dr Bawa-Garba raises many important questions about how the health system supports staff to be open and transparent when things go wrong.”
Dr Rob Hendry, medical director at the Medical Protection Society, which represented Dr Bawa-Garba in the case, said: “We welcome this important and timely review. 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.”
The General Medical Council (GMC), which sought the appeal that led to Dr Bawa-Garba being permanently struck off, welcomed the decision to launch the review.
Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said: “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.”
“Doctors are working in extremely challenging conditions, and we recognise that any doctor can make a mistake, particularly when working under pressure. 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.”