09 February 2018

Speaking up when things go wrong: Discussing the Dr Bawa-Garba case

Michael Guthrie, HCPC’s Director of Policy and Standards talks about how the HCPC encourages registrants to discuss mistakes.

The case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, who was struck off by the General Medical Council after she was found guilty of mistakes in the care of a six-year-old boy who died of sepsis, has received widespread media coverage.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has since ordered an urgent review of medical malpractice cases, stating: "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."

The HCPC recognises that cases like this can cause concern amongst registrants. However, it is important to remember that discussing when mistakes are made forms a key part of any health and care professional’s practice.

Standard Eight of our Standards of conduct, performance and ethics says that registrants need to be open and honest when something has gone wrong with the care, treatment or other services that they provide. This includes letting service users and carers know; apologising; and taking action to put matters right if they can. The standard also says that registrants need to support service users and carers to raise concerns and be helpful and honest in their responses to complaints.

The HCPC introduced this standard in 2016, following the introduction of a statutory duty of candour which some organisations in health and social care have to meet. The aim was to make a small, but important, contribution to creating a culture that supports professionals being open and honest with service users and carers about mistakes and errors and one which is open to, and acts on, feedback – both positive and negative.

The work that health and care professionals do is very often highly pressured and rarely risk free, and the vast majority of our registrants practise safely and effectively - sometimes in difficult circumstances. We recognise that sometimes mistakes happen. Our processes are designed to protect the public from those who are not fit to practise. We will, therefore, only act if a professional is found to have fallen below our standards and there are serious concerns about an individual's practise or behaviour.

As with any of our standards, we expect registrants to use their professional judgement. For example, some registrants will work in teams where it might be more appropriate for another professional to inform a service user or to make an apology. It is also important to remember that an apology is not an admission of guilt.

Speaking to colleagues, employers and service users about issues or mistakes is an important part of health care, and one which forms a vital part of the continued professional development of any health or care professional.

To learn more about the Standards of conduct, performance and ethics click here. 

Students can see our animated guide on being open when things go wrong here.

To read our response to the urgent review click here.