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December 3, 2014

Private Eye Issue 1379
Filed under: Private Eye — Dr. Phil @ 8:58 am

Justice delayed, GMC style

On September 30 2011, MD and Andrew Bousfield asked the GMC to investigate whether consultant paediatrician Dr David Elliman had failed in his professional duty to address the concerns of consultants about patient safety at the Child Development Clinic in Haringey where Baby P was seen (see Shoot the Messenger). These concerns predated the death of Baby P, which might have been prevented had they been acted on. A mere 38 months later, the GMC is still considering the matter.

This is hugely unfair to whistleblowers such as Dr Kim Holt, who paid such a heavy professional price for speaking up and refusing to be bought off and gagged by Great Ormond Street Hospital (see Eye last), but also for Dr Elliman who has been waiting as long as MD for an outcome. On November 3, Michael Hudspith, Investigation Officer on the GMC’s Fitness to Practise Directorate, wrote to MD. ‘I am afraid we do not yet have an outcome… Dr Elliman’s response to the allegations is currently the subject of further legal review. We expect this review to complete by next week. All case papers will then be considered by a medical and a lay case examiner who will determine whether or not there are grounds for a referral to a fitness to practise panel of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Services. As soon as we have an outcome I will forward it to you. I would expect this to be at some point during December. In the meantime I can only apologise once again that this investigation has taken much longer to complete than we would have wished.’

After Baby P, the biggest victim in this sad affair is Dr Sabah Al-Zayyat, who was accused of failing to notice Peter’s broken back when she examined him there two days before he died. The recent BBC documentary, ‘Baby P – the untold story’, cited evidence that his back may well not have been broken at the time she saw him. She was not trained in child protection and Professor Jonathan Sibert, an expert in children’s health who was asked to investigate failings in the service was “gobsmacked” that she was given the responsibility. “Dr Al-Zayyat should not have been in that job. It wasn’t fair to her.” She was not aware of Baby P’s background because the clinic was severely understaffed and notes were missing. “Looking at a child in the dark like this would be very, very difficult, even for the most experienced doctor” observed Sibert.

When Baby P’s identity hit the press in 2009, Dr Al-Zayyat was hung out to dry. She was sacked by GOSH, which ran the community clinic, reported to the GMC for alleged incompetence and was subject to horrific racist and threatening abuse. She became suicidal and left the UK. And yet, on November 27 2007 – four months after Peter’s death – she was given a glowing reference by Dr Elliman.

‘Sabah is a highly valued member of the team. In all aspects of her work she is extremely conscientious and very competent. She has a good rapport with parents and patients and always works with their best interests at heart. The circumstances in Haringey have meant that a lot of work that would normally not have fallen on the shoulders of a Locum has been taken up by Sabah and without her it would’ve been very difficult to carry on. I have no hesitation in recommending her for the definitive post.’ In essence, she was a being asked to do aspects of a job she was not properly trained, supervised or competent to do, she did it to the best of her ability and worked extremely hard. The fractured back may not even have been present when she saw Peter. Dr Al-Zayyat apologised for missing other signs of abuse, but as Professor Sibert confirmed, even experienced doctors may have missed them is such a chaotic clinic. Whether or not Dr Elliman has a case to answer, GOSH should apologize to Dr Al-Zayyat and the GMC should reopen her case. This was not down to ‘one bad doctor’, as GOSH tried to argue, but a caring, overworked, undertrained doctor sacrificed to protect the reputation of a famous hospital that took on a community service, messed up, and tried to escape accountability.