The highs and lows of a British tennis player

Is today the day?

Oh how we wept watching Tim Henman; so close yet so far. Watching him became an annual, masochistic ritual. We all knew very well that Tiger Tim wasn't going to make it, but we watched, prayed and named a hill after him in the hope that he would end the drought. Every year we got drawn in only to have our hearts broken, and yet we came back for more. Such was the life of a British tennis fan.

June arrived and once again our attention turned to the green courts of Wimbledon, the stats were rolled out and yet again we all dared to ponder whether this was our year. In the first week the Euro's offered distraction for some but as ever England went out at the quarter finals, so to Murray we turned. Murray unlike Henman, in both play and manner, seemed to offer us some hope. A Scotsman on a mission to win a grandslam, rather than merely reaching the final hurdle as he had done so before.

At the beginning of Wimbledon who would have dared thought Rafa would go out in the second round, to an effective unknown? Such is the charm of tennis; you can't win a grand slam in the first week, but you can lose it. Rafa went out and in doing so he paved the way for Murray to reach his first Wimbledon final creating a moral dilemma: who to support in the final? On the one hand, many want Federer to win one more slam, and to prove that whatever Nadal and Djokovic have done he can still do it better. On the other, 76 years is a too long for the British public to wait.

Not since 1938 has Britain had a man in the Wimbledon final, but for Murray to win he will have to overcome the formidable force that is Roger Federer. Is it possible? The stats say yes. In 2006 Roger Federer reigned supreme; winning 92 matches and losing just four, three to Nadal and one to Andy Murray. Murray leads on the heads to heads winning eight out of 15, but he has never beaten Federer in a grand slam. In fact, he is yet to even win a set against him in a grandslam final. All of that was before Ivan Lendl became his coach at the end of last year, though. Murray seems a different player now, showing real strength of character to beat David "the roadrunner" Ferrer in the quarterfinals.

Federer, the indisputable greatest player of all time, has 16 grand slams standing in his favour, to Murray’s zero. Federer oozes style, grace and composure and is loved by tennis fans world-wide, whereas Murray lacks charm and has yet to win a grandslam (or really the hearts of the nation, although a victory would secure that). But one gets the feeling that luck and indeed fate is on Murray's side. When London hosted its first Olympics in 1908, Arthur Gore was Wimbledon champion and became Olympic champion. But maybe we should settle for just Wimbledon.

This is one Scotsman who could be about to make history. Come on Tim Andy Murray!

Andy Murray serves in a practice session. Photograph: Getty Images
Getty
Show Hide image

All doctors kill people – and the threat of prosecution is bad for everyone

We must recognise the reality of medical practice: just because a doctor makes a mistake, that doesn’t mean they’ve all broken the law. 

On 15 November the Court of Appeal quashed the 2013 conviction for gross negligence manslaughter (GNM) of a senior consultant surgeon in London, David Sellu. Sellu, who had completed his prison term by the time the appeal was heard, will never get back the 15 months of his life that he spent in jail. Nor will the personal and family trauma, or the damage to his reputation and livelihood, ever properly heal. After decades of exemplary practice – in the course of the investigation numerous colleagues testified to his unflappable expertise – Sellu has said that he has lost the heart ever to operate again.

All doctors kill people. Say we make 40 important decisions about patients in a working day: that’s roughly 10,000 per annum. No one is perfect, and medical dilemmas are frequently complex, but even if we are proved right 99 per cent of the time, that still leaves 100 choices every year where, with the benefit of hindsight, we were wrong.

Suppose 99 per cent of those have no negative consequences. That’s still one disaster every 12 months. And even if most of those don’t result in a fatal outcome, over the course of a career a few patients are – very regrettably – going to die as a result of our practice. Almost invariably, these fatalities occur under the care of highly skilled and experienced professionals, working in good faith to the very best of their abilities.

If one of these cases should come before a crown court, the jury needs meticulous direction from the trial judge on the legal threshold for a criminal act: in essence, if a doctor was clearly aware of, and recklessly indifferent to, the risk of death. Sellu’s conviction was quashed because the appeal court found that the judge in his trial had singularly failed to give the jury these directions. The judiciary make mistakes, too.

Prosecutions of health-care professionals for alleged GNM are increasing markedly. The Royal College of Surgeons of England identified ten cases in 2015 alone. This must reflect social trends – the so-called “blame culture”, in which we have come to believe that when a tragedy occurs, someone must be held responsible. In every one of these cases, of course, an individual’s life has been lost and a family left distraught; but there is a deepening sense in which society at large, and the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), in particular, appear to be disconnected from the realities of medical practice.

Malpractice investigation and prosecution are horrendous ordeals for any individual. The cumulative impact on the wider health-care environment is equally serious. In a recent survey of doctors, 85 per cent of respondents admitted that they were less likely to be candid about mistakes, given the increasing involvement of the criminal law.

This is worrying, because the best way to avoid errors in future is by open discussion with the aim of learning from what has gone wrong. And all too often, severely adverse events point less to deficiencies on the part of individuals, and more to problems with systems. At Sellu’s hospital, emergency anaesthetic cover had to be arranged ad hoc, and this contributed to delays in potentially life-saving surgery. The tragic death of his patient highlighted this; management reacted by putting a formal rota system in place.

Doctors have long accepted the burden of civil litigation, and so insure themselves to cover claims for compensation. We are regulated by the General Medical Council, which has powers to protect patients from substandard practice, including striking off poorly performing doctors. The criminal law should remain an exceptional recourse.

We urgently need a thorough review of the legal grounds for a charge of GNM, with unambiguous directions to the police, CPS and judges, before the spectre of imprisonment becomes entrenched for those whose only concern is to provide good care for their patients. As Ken Woodburn, a consultant vascular surgeon in Cornwall who was accused and acquitted of GNM in 2001, has said: “You’re only ever one error away from a manslaughter prosecution.”

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage