You can’t blame one doctor for an ailing NHS, writes Anne Diamond

The trouble with the case of the overworked junior doctor and the little boy who died from undiagnosed sepsis is that your heart bleeds for everyone involved.

Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba should never have been struck off – but who can blame the parents for wanting to prevent a similar tragedy ever happening to anyone else?

As a mum myself, I have the greatest, heart-rending sympathy for the parents of six-year-old Jack Adcock, who died just 12 hours after being admitted to hospital with vomiting and diarrhoea.

His life could easily have been saved, had the seriousness of his condition been spotted in time. Quite understandably, Victor and Nicky Adcock feel anger as well as grief.

So when Dr Bawa-Garba was convicted of manslaughter and struck off the medical register, they vowed to celebrate with champagne at Jack’s grave.

This week, however, eight years after their little boy’s death, they were dealt an unexpected blow – and one which has left them reeling.

Because last Tuesday the General Medical Council overturned its previous decision and reinstated Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba to the register so she can return to work.

Indeed, they now say she should never have been struck off, and that she was “a competent and useful doctor, who can provide considerable useful future service to society.”

Like the Adcocks, I was at first stunned. As Jack’s mum said this week: “How can somebody make that many mistakes, be found guilty by a jury and be able to practise again? If you walked into a hospital and saw that doctor, would you be happy for her to treat your child?”

Not me, I thought.

But dig a bit deeper, and it is so much more complicated than that. Terrible tragedy though it was, was it also a case of an overworked and under-supported doctor being “thrown under the bus” as the huge social media storm has suggested?

The problem even with discussing this is that you could be seen to be diminishing the scale of the tragedy that befell this little boy – who also had Down’s syndrome and a heart condition.

But what followed Jack’s death also became a nightmare for a young doctor with a glittering career, herself a mother, who walked on to the wards that day intending to “do no harm” as the Hippocratic oath decrees.

Jack was admitted into her care. Twelve hours later he was dead.

The detail of what happened in Leicester Royal Infirmary’that day is complicated but, by all accounts, Dr Bawa-Garba did her best in a fatally flawed environment.

One ex-government health advisor, Prof Don Berwick, said: “Even though she made mistakes she was trapped in… circumstances which set her up for failure.”

Another doctor told of “poor staffing levels; communication problems and poor handovers; IT systems not working;
no senior staff on duty, juniors left to do everything; a toxic environment that day”.

Dr Bawa-Garba herself says she’ll never forget Jack’s case, and her part in his terrible outcome.

“I want to pay tribute and remember Jack Adcock, a wonderful little boy who started this story,” she said.

His parents remain dumbfounded and shocked.

My heart goes out to them. But at the same time I can’t help asking – who’d be a doctor?

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