The author of a recent report comparing the outcome of two fitness to practise cases suggested that nurses are dealt with more harshly than doctors.

In a paper published in the journal Nursing Ethics, Nathan Hodson, doctor and researcher, compared the cases of nurse Isabel Amaro and doctor Hadiza Bawa-Garba who were both convicted of manslaughter due to gross negligence for their role in the death of Jack Adcock.

The tragic story of Jack Adcock has been widely reported; he had Down’s syndrome and a heart condition, and who died in 2011 from a cardiac arrest caused by sepsis after being admitted to Leicester Royal Infirmary.

Whilst both nurse Isabel Amaro and doctor Hadiza Bawa-Garba were convicted and each received a two-year suspended sentence, the research paper suggested that Isabel Amaro was treated more harshly since the NMC struck her off whilst, in contrast, Dr Bawa-Garba was allowed to return to practice by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service following a period of suspension – a decision backed by the Court of Appeal after it was challenged by the General Medical Council.

His paper highlighted similarities between the two healthcare professionals, including the fact both had long, previously unblemished careers and continued to work safely for several years after Jack’s death without further incident.

Dr Nathan Hodson said that he was “really surprised” by differences in the way the nurse and doctor’s cases were handled. He suggested that the difference may be because the NMC panel got various things “wrong” when deciding on an appropriate sanction for Ms Amaro.

Public confidence in the NMC?

Both nurse Isabel Amaro and doctor Hadiza Bawa-Garba had undertaken appropriate retraining and there was no question that eithere posed a risk to future patients.

However, in spite of the fact Ms Amaro’s case agreed the failings in her practice that led to her conviction had been remedied, she was struck off nonetheless because “public confidence in the nursing profession and in the NMC as a regulator would be undermined were the panel not to impose a striking-off order”.

Dr Hodson suggested there was “no reason” why a nurse with professional legal representation should be struck off for gross negligence manslaughter in circumstances where a doctor was not.

As a conclusion, Dr Hodson suggested that he believed the NMC panel had made a number of “mistakes” including seemingly presuming that a conviction for gross negligence manslaughter should automatically result in a nurse being struck off – which is not the case.

In contrast to Dr Bawa-Garba, “arguably her [Ms Amaro’s] career was sacrificed on the altar of public opinion”.

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Stephen McCaffrey

I am a NMC Defence Barrister who has represented large number of medical professionals before their regulatory bodies in either first instance proceedings or appeals. 

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