Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba – Part 1: what does this case look like to medics?

Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, a paediatric specialty registrar, was struck off the specialist medical register a few days ago. Pulse, a GP magazine, provide a timeline for her case. In summary:

  • 18/2/11 – Jack Adcock, a 6 year-old boy, dies in Leicester Royal Infirmary of sepsis secondary to pneumonia whilst under the care of Dr Bawa-Garba.
  • 2/11/15 – Isabel Amaro, a Portuguese agency nurse involved in his care, is convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and is later struck off.
  • 4/11/15 – Dr Bawa-Garba is convicted of gross negligence manslaughter.
  • 29/11/16 – She applies to the Court of Appeal for “leave to appeal”; it refuses her application.
  • 13/6/17
    • She is suspended from the medical register for 12 months by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS).
    • The MPTS reject an appeal from the General Medical Council (GMC) to strike her off the register.
  • 25/1/18 – She is struck off the medical register by the GMC following their appeal to the High Court.

Dr Bawa-Garba will no longer practise medicine in the UK.

Sources

I am neither a lawyer nor a paediatrician; my opinions are my own. Further, I do not have the transcript from the 2015 Crown Court trial – my sources for the original trial are the judgment from the 2016 Court of Appeal hearing. the Record of Determinations from the MPTS tribunal in February & June 2017 and the 2018 judgment from the High Court. I don’t have access to the coroner’s inquest.

54000 doctors is a website set up by Dr Chris Day, an Emergency Medicine trainee who fought a legal battle against Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust over whistleblowing. On it, is a letter concerning Dr Bawa-Garba’s case signed by four paediatricians and another doctor involved in the Child Death Review for a London Clinical Commissioning Group.

I have purposefully referred to this letter sparingly as I cannot easily verify the facts within it.

The story

Jack had a background of Down’s syndrome. He was on enalapril for a heart condition described as a “hole in the heart”. He also had a bowel abnormality. He was prone to chest infections. When well, he was a happy child who enjoyed playing with his sister.

10:15 am – Jack arrives at the Children’s Assessment Unit (CAU) from the GP having been off school the previous day. In the surgery his breathing was shallow and lips slightly blue.

10:30 am – Jack is admitted to CAU.

10:45-11am – Dr Bawa-Garba reviews him. He presents with a 12-hour history of diarrhoea and vomiting. He is lethargic and unresponsive and does not flinch when a cannula is inserted. His peripheries are cold and his temperature is raised.

Dr Bawa-Garba takes a blood gas. He is acidotic and has a high lactate.

A “blood gas” is a blood sample taken for analysis of partial pressures of specific gases, ie levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen. Machines for blood gas analysis are available in emergency departments, intensive care and, depending on the hospital, other areas.

The test also shows levels of blood acidity, lactate levels and bicarbonate levels. More modern machines can show levels of electrolytes and haemoglobin but these latter results are not as accurate as a lab sample. Staff can see the results within 2-3 minutes of the sample being run. This does not include time to obtain the sample and get it to the machine.

She diagnoses gastroenteritis with moderate dehydration and prescribes a fluid bolus.

11:30-11:45 am – Jack improves after being given fluids. Dr Bawa-Garba is cautious with fluid administration due to the Jack’s pre-existing heart condition.

12:01 pm – he has an X-ray during which he is “sitting up and laughing” and reacts to having his finger pricked

12:12 pm – on a second blood gas, results are better.

12:30 pm – the X-ray result is available but at this point not seen by Dr Bawa-Garba.

12:00-3:00 pm – Dr Bawa-Garba sees other children including performing a lumbar puncture on a baby. Nurse Amaro stops monitoring Jack’s oxygen saturations, records a high temperature at 2:40 pm and Jack’s nappies require frequent changing (presumably from diarrhoea). Nurse Amaro does not inform Dr Bawa-Garba.

3:00 pm – Dr Bawa-Garba reviews the X-ray and prescribes antibiotics.

4:00 pm – Nurse Amaro administers the prescribed antibiotics.

4:15 pm – Dr Bawa-Garba reviews blood tests ordered at 10:45 am. The results were not back until 4:15 pm due to a failure in the hospital’s electronic computer system. She was unable to obtain them “despite her best endeavours”.

4:30 pm – Dr Bawa-Garba flags a rising CRP (a blood test) with the paediatric consultant, Dr Stephen O’Riordan alongside the patient history, pneumonia diagnosis and treatment. She spoke to him again at 6:30 pm but does not raise concerns. There is no specific mention that she tells him about the high lactate and acidosis.

7:00 pm – Jack is transferred from CAU to Ward 28 “out of Dr Bawa-Garba’s care”. Jack’s mother administers his enalapril though this had deliberately not been prescribed. (It is unclear when she did this.) The plan to omit enalapril is not documented.

7:45 pm – Jack’s heart “fail[s]”. (I have no idea what this means!)

8:00 pm – A crash call is put out. On arrival, Dr Bawa-Garba stops resuscitation as she mistakes Jack’s mother for a different patient’s mother. The other patient has a “Do Not Resuscitate” order. With 30 seconds to 2 minutes, another doctor identifies the mistake and resuscitation is restarted.

Despite resuscitation, Jack dies at 9:20 pm.

The context

Dr Bawa-Garba was a Specialty Trainee Year 6 (ST6) in paediatrics. It takes 8 years of specialty training to become a paediatric consultant. This was her first shift in an acute setting after 14 months of maternity leave. She was asked to cover the CAU, Emergency Department (ED) and the ward.

(54000 doctors claim that there should have been a second registrar – a doctor of Dr Bawa-Garba’s level – to cover CAU, effectively leaving her doing two people’s jobs. They also claim the covering consultant was away teaching. I’ve not been able to verify these facts from the two legal sources to which I refer.)

The computer system was down for some hours. Nurse Amaro was an agency nurse who primarily worked in adult medicine. Dr Bawa-Garba worked a 12-13 hours shift without a break by the time of Jack’s cardiac arrest.

How bad is this?

So…I qualify the following comments by repeating that I was not at the trial, I was not in the hospital looking after Jack nor have I reviewed the notes. I’m not a paediatrician though I do look occasionally look after sick kids (probably more so as I’m soon moving to a paediatric anaesthesia rotation).

Initial management

Most of the initial management seems pretty decent. The diagnosis of gastroenteritis (infection of the stomach and bowel, occasionally referred to as “food poisoning”) is not unreasonable and is a condition not treated with antibiotics (indeed they can make it worse). The primary symptoms are diarrhoea and vomiting. This can lead to shortness of breath.

Dr Bawa-Garba gives Jack a fluid bolus and by the time the X-ray happens at 12:01, he’s laughing. That’s a massive improvement from the description of him being limp and unresponsive to pain initially. The second blood gas being better is also reassuring.

This is nonetheless difficult to judge. Should she have informed her consultant that there was a floppy, acidotic child with a background of previous cardiac surgery presenting with a high lactate? Possibly…but then he was getting better after she’d initiated treatment. It’s not unreasonable to initiate your treatment, see what the result is and then call the boss. Especially, if you know your senior is highly likely to institute the same plan as you.

X-ray

There is a 2½ hour delay between the X-ray being available at 12:30 pm and her review at 3:00 pm. It is impossible to say what happened in this time. Doing a lumbar puncture in a baby is no small feat. It’s entirely possible she had spent 2½ hours treating a baby with meningitis.

It also appears nobody informed her the X-ray was being done but in fairness to the nursing staff, it’s not that unreasonable – it’s the doctor’s job to chase up investigations she orders. If the diagnosis is gastroenteritis and the X-ray is not expected to be positive, it’s still understandable that Dr Bawa-Garba prioritises other sick patients over Jack and does not tell the nursing staff to let her know when it’s been done.

Dr Bawa-Garba admits she should have reviewed the X-ray earlier. It is unclear why she believes this.

Consultant discussion

This is where it gets a bit trickier. If Dr Bawa-Garba didn’t mention the blood gas results to the consultant, that’s pretty bad. Then again, at 4:30, Dr Bawa-Garba may have been unaware that Jack’s oxygen saturations were not being monitored and she was not aware of the high frequency of diarrhoea. The continuing high temperature would probably have made little difference to treatment.

(NB: 54000 doctors suggest that she did tell Dr Riordan but he thought the results unremarkable as Dr Bawa-Garba didn’t “stress” their importance. There are some numbers in the 54000 doctors letter. If any of this is true, Dr Riordan’s practice is questionable at best and at worst, gross negligence manslaughter.)

(Presumed) Cardiac Arrest

It is not specifically noted from the judgments where Jack had a cardiac arrest at 8pm. The MPTS record notes a crash call was put out at 8:00 pm so one must assume ward 28.

As an aside, some time ago, Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders were switched to Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) – one can resuscitate somebody with fluid but this is not what a DNR is intended for.

At this point, the trial notes that Jack was beyond the “point of no return” which, from what I’ve read, is a reasonable assumption. In adult medicine, it is certainly rare for somebody to survive a cardiac arrest secondary to septic shock.

How bad was Dr Bawa-Garba’s failure to correctly identify the DNR order? To be honest, given the situation Jack was in, the 30 second to 2 minute delay will have made little difference. Even in a different situation, with otherwise good quality CPR, it would be very difficult to claim that stopping for 30 seconds to 2 minutes would be the key to surviving. I can imagine making the same mistake. I think every doctor can.

It’s worth noting Leicester Royal Infirmary is a tertiary centre for paediatrics. As such, there will likely be a number of children who have DNR orders in place ie it is probably not highly unusual. It is only human that after 12 hours with no break, she picks up the wrong set of notes (or is even handed the wrong set) and sees the DNR without checking the label properly. Yes – even in the case of a DNA-CPR order, I can imagine this happening.

Enalapril

Enalapril is an angiotensin-converting enzyme or ACE inhibitor used to lower blood pressure and treat heart failure. They are potent drugs. It is the only class of anti-hypertensive anaesthetists insist on stopping prior to surgery. From the outside, it seems odd that an ostensibly improving child suddenly went into cardiac arrest.

My best guess, and I emphasise guess, is that the enalapril may have been significant. Again, I was neither at trial nor in the hospital so I cannot say whether that’s a reasonable assumption. Without knowing the child’s blood pressures and heart rates in the intervening period between 12:00-8:00 pm. But enalapril has an onset of action of 1 hour and peak effect between 4-6 hours – it seems Jack’s cardiac arrest was somewhere between 1-2 hours after its administration.

If the nurses were asked about the drug and the mother was told she could give it despite it not being prescribed, that would be shocking. Enalapril has a long duration of action (it’s usually taken once daily); a couple of hours without the drug would have been highly unlikely to have killed Jack. The Court of Appeal notes that the deliberate nature of Dr Bawa-Garba’s omission was not documented; whilst this is good practice, it is not essential. Doctors should expect that drugs which are not prescribed are not given as regular medications are otherwise routinely prescribed.

If they were in doubt, nursing staff should have checked with doctors if the omission was deliberate. If this was simply a mother understandably doing what she thought best for her son – giving him a life-saving medication – that is a tragedy.

Questions

The pressure Dr Bawa-Garba was under was immense. Without timely blood results, a junior doctor down, 14 months out of practice, an adult-trained agency nurse on a kids’ ward with anyway too few nurses and a patient who was when she last saw him getting better and who had presented with atypical symptoms of pneumonia (although all kids can get diarrhoea and vomiting when they have an infection), I find the absence of any investigation into the wider issues difficult to parse.

Indeed, I’m left with a number of questions. (I accept these may have been answered at trial and have simply not been included in the Court of Appeal judgment’s summary of the case.)

Specific to the case:

  • What observations were done between 12:12 pm when the second blood gas was done (meaning Dr Bawa-Garba must have seen the patient) and his cardiac arrest at 8:00 pm?
  • More specifically, what were the blood pressures and heart rates, key in assessing the level of shock? (Note, blood pressures are done less frequently in children than adults but this is still a basic and pertinent observation.) How frequently did Dr Bawa-Garba request observations be done?
  • If blood pressures and heart rates were being measured, how frequently? Was Jack triggering the hospital early warning score system such that Dr Bawa-Garba should have been contacted? If he was triggering, why wasn’t she contacted? If he did not trigger it, how can it be expected that Dr Bawa-Garba know Jack is getting sicker?
  • What was Dr Bawa-Garba doing between 12:00 pm-3:00 pm? What efforts have been made to discover this? Was she seeing patients sicker than Jack had initially appeared?
  • Did Jack’s mother discuss the enalapril administration with nursing staff? If so, did nursing staff advise her either to give or not give enalapril to Jack? What prevented them from discussing this with Jack?
  • What were the blood results? Would they have made much difference anyway? There is no mention of electrolyte abnormalities. Dr Bawa-Garba already knows he has an infection. The raised CRP is marker of infection but a single result is not a particularly useful marker of infection severity.

The wider organisational issues:

  • Why was she covering GP referrals, A&E referrals and another ward? What is the usual cover for this? What efforts were made to find cover given it was a Friday and so regular administrative staff were in?
  • Why didn’t the consultant on CAU step down to do the registrar shift or the regular ward consultant step down to cover so Dr Bawa-Garba could cover CAU?
  • Even if the computer system was down, why weren’t urgent blood results being phoned through to CAU?
  • How often was CAU understaffed with nurses?
  • How often were there too few juniors?
  • Were these concerns escalated to management?
  • If they were, what did managers do?

Doctors’ vs the public’s interpretation

The reason that so many doctors have come out in support of Dr Bawa-Garba is that this just looks like a normal day in the NHS. This post is not meant to conclusively prove Dr Bawa-Garba’s innocence or guilt. It hopefully gives you an insight into some of the thoughts doctors will have reading this case. Though I’ve attempted to be neutral in this post, I can’t help but feel a kinship with those tweeting #iamhadiza.

“Manslaughter by gross negligence occurs when the offender is in breach of a duty of care towards the victim, the breach causes the death of the victim and, having regard to the risk involved, the offender’s conduct was so bad as to amount to a criminal act or omission.”

p. 7, Manslaughter Guideline Consultation, The Sentencing Council, 4 July 2017

The definition on Wikipedia is of negligence such that “it showed such a disregard for the life and safety of others as to amount to a crime and deserve punishment”. (Though this is Wikipedia.)

I suspect many doctors will read this account and think “I’m simply lucky to have not gone to jail”. I will talk more about openess in Part 2 but take this quote:

“I never, ever want another family to go through what we’ve gone through”

Nicky Adcock, mother of Jack Adcock, Leicester Mercury, 25 January 2018

For entirely understandable reasons, Nicky Adcock may have inadvertently achieved the opposite. Indeed, I cannot even begin to blame her given the tragedy she has endured.

However, consider the case of Elaine Bromiley, a woman who died after a poorly managed anaesthetic emergency. Below is the story of her remarkable husband Martin Bromiley who, rather than suing the doctors, went about trying to find out why his wife died and how he could stop it in the future. Dr Bawa-Garba’s practice was, I think, significantly better than that of the doctors caring for Elaine Bromiley yet so many more lessons have been learned from that – and probably lives saved – than will be from the death of Jack Adcock.

In Part 2 (now available), I’ll try and explain some of legal aspects and why much of the interpretation of the case is wrong but its consequences for all healthcare professionals but particularly doctors-in-training (aka junior doctors) are profound.

Edit (30/1/18): the Crown Court does not publish judgments routinely – this post previously implied otherwise. I did not mention that there had been a coroner’s inquest where systemic failures should have been examined. I also mistakenly referred to Chris Day as an EM consultant – he is an EM trainee.

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5 thoughts on “Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba – Part 1: what does this case look like to medics?

  1. ‘ I did not mention that there had been a coroner’s inquest where systemic failures should have been examined.’
    I have not read a transcript of the Coroner’s inquest but I understand from the transcripts of judgements that during the inquest concern was raised by an expert witness about the standard of care given. The Leicester coroner, Mrs. Mason has an National reputation for ensuring that health care failures are referred to be investigated by appropriate authorities. It was following the Inquest that the Police re-opened their investigation after originally telling Dr. Baka-Garba that she would not be prosecuted.

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  2. This is an excellent summary of what is known and what is speculation around a case that is having very far reaching effects on the medical profession as a whole. My colleague was having his GP appraisal today and told me that he has removed a reflective case summary from his portfolio lest it be used against him in future. This completely goes against the duty of candour and learning culture we have been encouraged to adopt but he is right – I suspect colleagues up and down the country are doing the same.

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  3. Very well written and raises points probably most of us are thinking…specially about the role of the ward and CAU consultant for that day , lack of permanent nursing staff and enalapril administration by the mother……Whatever the outcome scars will remain….this will change how we all practice medicine….Sadly the joy of practising medicine is being taken away from us….

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  4. I think there are degrees of negligence/incompetence that are not forgivable. Not checking about a DNAR notice before calling resuscitators off does, in my view, constitute manslaughter – while her interpretation and mis-management of Jack’s blood results reflects very poor practice it is, perhaps, not criminal. I think Dr Bawa-Garba should be struck off and will be lucky if she escapes imprisonment.

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