Not just James Bond 007 British Secret Service agent has ‘Licence to Kill’ – is it now NHS hospital Doctors?

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Many of the British population don’t know it, haven’t experience it, but probably suspect it, but doctors (like the rest of us) make mistakes, but whereby the dire consequences of theirs, are that people die or their lives are destroyed, and the futures of their mothers, fathers, and relatives are forever blighted’

And so it happened some seven years ago in a hospital in Leicester, although it could just have easily have happened in your own local hospital.

A young boy of six died of sepsis when he should have been saved. The young lad died because he was let-down by the medical profession when undergoing treatment that should have been relatively straightforward.

The consequences of this tragedy, have been devastating all round, but not least for the mother trying to cope forever with the loss of her son. The other person whose life inevitably has been traumatised is the female doctor who has been held primarily responsible for the catalogue of errors that resulted in this boy’s tragic death.

Now, despite the fact that the media describe this doctor as a ‘junior’ doctor, you have to known that ALL doctors are so described, whatever their experience, until they are at the very top – CONSULTANTS. This particular doctor was in fact at an uppermost experienced Specialist Registrar level paediatrician, so perhaps well on the way herself of reaching that Consultant grade – so no real excuse for screwing up badly (but apparently, she DID).

To some extend the detailed circumstance are irrelevant here, because suffice to say that the doctor involved [together with the attendant nurse] was subsequently found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence in a fully informed Court of Law – four years after the tragedy (a massive delay?). She was given a 2-year suspended jail sentence, and was suspended from the medical register for a year in June last year.

[The prema facie evidence would seem to indicate to us laymen that the doctor involved was out of her depth on that particular shift and so perhaps should not have been put into a role that she wasn’t competent for at that particular time?]

However, the GMC successfully appealed that suspension in the High Court [who concluded that despite the mitigation of others’ multiple failings, the doctor’s own failures weren’t simply honest errors, but were truly exceptional bad – so this was no ordinary case, was it?], as that outcome being not sufficient to protect the public, so it wasn’t until last January that she was actually “struck-off” – that is being removed from the GMC medical register [meaning that she could no longer practice medicine in the UK].

Well, that harsher outcome caused an angry backlash and outrage (both in hospitals and on social media) from the confines of doctors’ wider community, who despite not being fully informed of the detailed facts [that is not party to the inquest nor the 4-week trial] nevertheless declared the struck-off doctor as “innocent, and raised money for an application to the Court of Appeal. Yesterday its three judges overturned the verdict of the lower court and reinstated the suspension in place of the struck-off one.

Now this is a very disturbing turn of events, as it would seem that it flies in the face of a criminal court’s decision with a conviction of manslaughter, and it fatally undermines the verdict of the jury by implying that this was an unsafe verdict – but without going through the due process of law, to do so? If nothing else that is disrespectful to our British justice system and the people it sets out to protect, isn’t it?

Surely, it cannot be logical for a doctor to be found culpability and guilty of gross negligence manslaughter and simultaneously to be deemed as a doctor to be medically NOT GUILTY of gross negligence and incompetence, which are prime reasons for being struck-off, can it?

Now, let’s be clear about something, can we? While doctors certainly deal with life, conversely, they also deal with death, don’t they? Yes, and it is a truism that every hospital doctor will make costly mistakes, mostly of omission it should be said, and some will regrettably lead to deaths. Indeed, those young, bright-eyed, eager, dedicated, intended doctors are warned early-on at Medical School that each and every one of them will kill someone probably in their first few years as a practicing doctor – it goes with the territory and it is something they have to live with as they go on to save or perform miracles for others.

If being honest, every experience hospital doctor individually will admit to having made multiple clinical errors, some so serious that the patient dies, and that is precisely why they have reacted so strongly about a fellow doctor being convicted of manslaughter and struck-off, isn’t it?” [why the latter is seen as a greater imposition than a prison sentence is anyone guess?]

Yep, as everyone in hospitals works in the same low-resource, high-pressured environment, they all fear being in that same boat because they believe that any doctor might make similar mistakes and be charged with manslaughter (although that is in fact few and far between) – so consequently they as a profession have ‘closed ranks’ simply to protect themselves in an act of self-interest.

Whether or not that was justified, or even if it was against normal justice to have a convicted doctor returned to the register, is another matter. And whether or not that will result in a loss in public confidence in the medical profession is a moot point, isn’t it? There is already a depressing, unsustainable, situation where compensation for clinical errors are costing the NHS in excess of £1billion annually, with obstetrics & gynecology heading the cost table for clinical negligence, followed by surgery, medicine, and A&E [driven onwards and upwards by lawyers pushing no-win, no-fee deals which nets them very large fees for success].

However, there is a wider debate to be had, and that is whether or not the criminal courts are the best answer in dealing with those medical professionals who make an entirely avoidable error [possibly with catastrophic consequences] but as honest mistakes, particularly as it is a vocation that requires doctors and nurses to operate their skills on the cusp of life and death, and when misfortune combined with the lack of a safety net and when an inadequate hospital system letdowns regularly fails them.

The GMC performs the role of regulator in protecting the public [in conjunction with the independent Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) which adjudicates on complaints made against doctors] by considering whether a doctor is fit and safe to practice in the UK, while the criminal Courts system bestows justice, with due punishment for deliberate wrongdoing – are doctors really in the class of criminals, do you think?

There is a groundswell of opinion that honest failures by doctors should not be responded to primarily by blame and retribution but by learning and by a drive to reduce risks for future patients. Is there really a need to find fault to the extent of it being necessary to sacrifice the career of an otherwise competent and useful doctor who presents no danger to the public, simply in order to satisfy a demand for blame and punishment, do you think?

Is it time then to withdraw from the courts the task of putting doctors on trial and give that responsibility directly to the MPTS with the additional power to refer cases to the courts if they suspect criminality is involved?

 

[Perhaps the new Health secretary ‘Matt Hancock’ will pick-up the challenge and sort out how to deal with the issue of doctors’ mistakes – certainly his predecessor ‘Jeremy Hunt’ wouldn’t – concentrating on his OWN career, eh?]

 

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