Doctors gathered to protest about working conditions in the NHS at Holyrood yesterday amid claims by opposition parties that Health Secretary Shona Robison had “snubbed” their meeting.
A small group demonstrated outside the Scottish Parliament saying the demands of the job have left many of them feeling “stressed and exhausted”.
They were there to raise to discuss staffing and workload pressures, “burnout” and a potential blame culture of overworked NHS staff.
The doctors raised the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, who was struck off the medical register after being convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of gross negligence for the death of a patient.
Wearing T-shirts with the slogan I Am Hadiza, campaigners from the Scottish Action for Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba group argued her case should have been treated as corporate failure rather than that of an individual doctor. Six-year-old Jack Adcock died while under her care in England in 2011, while she was working a 13-hour shift in an understaffed paediatric unit.
Doctors have expressed fears that a culture of stress and overwork could lead to mistakes being made in Scotland.
Dr Hina Naz Abbasi, a consultant neurologist in Glasgow, said: “I think we are in a similar situation [in Scotland] … This case is relevant to everyone from Inverness to London, working under the NHS umbrella. We are stressed, exhausted.”
She called for an end to “witch-hunting and criminalising medical error”.
BMA Scotland chairman Dr Peter Bennie – who last week claimed NHS doctors in Scotland are facing unprecedented levels of pressure – said many were “genuinely fearful” of the potential for disciplinary action from the General Medical Council if they believe a doctor has made a mistake.
He said: “The risk of going into work to discover that there just aren’t enough of you to do the job properly or even safely and then facing this impossible dilemma that has come about since the Bawa-Garba case – we’re used to being clear about what we do in that situation.
“Clearly we stay at work, we don’t walk away, we’ve got a duty and we do our level best in possibly difficult circumstances with the patients we’ve got in front of us. We’re now genuinely fearful that in doing so we could find ourselves in real trouble with the GMC.
“That lack of recognition that even the best doctor cannot do the best job in circumstances where the support just isn’t there and you’re that stressed without the support – you will make human errors.”
The health summit was the brainchild of Scottish Labour, who organised a meeting of senior consultants, GPs and trainee doctors to discuss the pressure on staff with representatives from NHS Scotland, the British Medical Association, the General Medical Council and a cross-party group of MSPs.
Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “This summit highlighted the stresses our health service is facing, particularly on staff.
“Our dedicated NHS staff are being forced to work hours at end without any breaks, juggling multiple complex cases, with budget and staffing cuts placing them under incredible pressure. They are under strain like never before.
“Those on the frontline say there is now a ‘perfect storm’ with a culture lacking compassion, where doctors suffering stress and burnout do not feel supported and instead are concerned about a blame culture.
“It is inevitable that this increases the chances of mistakes, and unless we care for our doctors and nurses, care for patients will suffer.
“This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by all parties – I am disappointed the Health Secretary elected not to attend the meeting at any point. This snub confirms how much the Cabinet Secretary is in denial about the pressure our NHS staff face.”
Speaking befor the meeting, Professor Jason Leitch, national clinical director, said he and fellow attendee Paul Gray, NHS Scotland chief executive, were looking forward to hearing from the clinicians.
Prof Leitch said: “It is essential to foster a culture within our NHS where staff can raise any concerns they may have about patient safety and malpractice because it helps to improve our health service.”