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Where is the support for our struck-off nursing colleague?

Nurse Isabel Amaro received little help from her profession, unlike her colleague, doctor Hadiza Bawa-Garba

Nurse Isabel Amaro received little help from her profession, unlike her colleague, doctor Hadiza Bawa-Garba

A demonstration in Edinburgh supporting Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba. Picture: Alamy

In October I will start my career as a registered nurse. I like to think that I’m entering a profession where my colleagues will support me if something goes wrong, but after reading about nurse Isabel Amaro I worry how true that is.

The case of Ms Amaro, who was struck off the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register in 2016, raises many issues for nursing, and there are some difficult conversations that need to be had.

Doctors rallied round 

Doctors called for the head of the General Medical Council (GMC) to stand down over his handling of the case of Hadiza Bawa-Garba, the junior doctor who was struck off the medical register following the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock.

Jack had Down’s syndrome and a heart defect. After being admitted to Leicester Royal Infirmary in 2011 with vomiting and diarrhoea, he died later that day from cardiac arrest caused by sepsis.

Dr Bawa-Garba was convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence in 2015, and given a two-year suspended prison sentence. At her trial, prosecutors said Jack’s death was caused by ‘serious neglect’ by staff who failed to recognise that he was close to death.

In her defence, Dr Bawa-Garba, who had just returned from maternity leave, said she had worked a 12-hour shift with no break and there was a lot of miscommunication on the ward.

In June 2017 she was suspended from the medical register for a year. But after an appeal by the GMC she was struck off the register in January this year.

However, after her case was heard by the Court of Appeal in mid-August, the GMC’s decision was overturned and the original sanction of a one-year suspension order was re-imposed, allowing her to return to practice.

High-profile case

Dr Bawa-Garba’s high-profile case was all over the national media, so it is likely you will have heard of her. But have you heard of Isabel Amaro?

Ms Amaro is the agency nurse who also cared for Jack. She received the same conviction and suspended sentence as Dr Bawa-Garba, and was subsequently struck off the NMC register.

But while medics rallied round Dr Bawa-Garba – crowdfunding to pay for lawyers, constantly tweeting their support and even appearing as expert witnesses in court – there does not appear to have been the same support for Ms Amaro.

This complex and tragic case, in which a young boy lost his life, highlights the dangerous and difficult situations faced by front-line staff on our hospital wards.

So where were the statements from nurses in support of Ms Amaro? Where were the offers of funding to enable her to appeal her striking off?

Sticking up for our own

This case also begs the question: why do nurses not stick up for their own like other professions do?

At her NMC fitness to practise hearing in August 2016, Ms Amaro admitted making mistakes but said others had made more serious errors. She told the panel she felt she had been made a scapegoat.

With short staffing, limited resources and an over-reliance on bank and agency staff, any one of us could find ourselves in a similar situation to Isabel Amaro. So have we, as nurses, hung one of our own out to dry?

Or perhaps we just didn’t know? Throughout the trial, the media coverage focused almost exclusively on the doctor. This implies that losing your career in medicine is a tragedy but losing your career in nursing is a minor inconvenience.

A blame culture

But how would you feel if you faced the possibility of having your career taken away from you? Would you not want your profession to advocate for you and stand behind you?

In a society that still has a strong blame culture, I hope that if I am ever in a similar position, my colleagues will have my back.

Nothing we say or do now can bring back Jack Adcock. But changing the blame culture to a learning culture would go a long way to ensuring that a tragedy such as this never happens again.

Dann Gooding will graduate from London South Bank University this month

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