Should doctors be prosecuted over deadly honest mistakes

author image - oliviah

By Oliviah Rix-Taylor

on Thursday 12 July 2018

Doctor with bad news


The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt recently accepted a report that stated doctors shouldn’t be prosecuted when they kill or harm a patient due to an honest mistake.

These changes were suggested in light of the 2015 tragedy concerning Jack Adcock, a six year old boy who developed sepsis and died at the Leicester Royal Infirmary.

The junior doctor, Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, in charge of Jack’s care was found guilty of the gross negligence that led to his death and was struck off the medical register.

Jack's ordeal

Jack Adcock had Downs Syndrome and suffered from a heart condition. After vomiting and difficulty breathing he was admitted to hospital by his GP. Here he was seen by Bawa-Garba who ran tests and administered antibiotics but did not raise any concerns during a hand over. Later that day Jack’s condition worsened so much that nurses tried to resuscitate him. Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba called off the resuscitation because she confused Jack with another patient.  Sadly Jack’s condition was far too advanced by this point anyway and he passed away at 9.20pm, eleven hours after being admitted to hospital.

The General Medical Council (GMC) was responsible for Bawa-Garba's conviction, fighting for her to be stripped of her license which angered many doctors.

The Report

  • Called for the GMC to be stripped of their future power when appealing the rulings of Medical Practioners 

  • called for a clear understanding  surrounding negligence so that practitioners could be assured they would only be prosecuted in the case of ‘poor performance’ and not when they had committed an ‘honest mistake.’

Honest or Not

But how do you explain to the parents of Jack Adcock that their son died due to an honest mistake? And where is the boundary between a mistake and an honest one?

There exists an extraordinarily large number of cases in which patients have been harmed, maimed or even died due to the negligence of a health care professional.

Do we explain to Sheila Hynes that when her heart valve was put in upside down it was an honest mistake?

Do we tell the parents of Maisha Najeeb that due to an honest mistake the surgeon injected glue into her brain instead of dye? – but it’s okay because the NHS have taken action and now colour code all their bottles.

When you get your car fixed at a garage but it comes back still unable to change gear, or when a solicitor writes the wrong name in your will, it is fully expected that those mistakes will be rectified at no extra cost.

In the case of our lives, mistakes are not easily rectified (honest or not) because when we ourselves are victims of negligence, the mistake has far reaching consequences. 

The result should be compensation as well as rectification.

Above all else, surely what victims of clinical negligence want to know, is that no one else will experience the same heartache that they did, they want to know that nobody else will have to go through their experience of pain and suffering.

It’s a difficult area for people to agree on, our doctors and nurses are amongst the hardest working and most dedicated to patient lives in the world – but an honest mistake just doesn’t seem to justify loss of life. Not now. Not ever.


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