The GMC brought a middle-grade doctor before the Medical Practitioners Tribunal alleging failure to attend to a patient when called (resulting in the death of the patient of a curable condition) and providing an explanation that was dishonest.
Background to the GMC allegations
The background to the case was –
- The trust that had referred the doctor to the GMC had conducted an investigation itself and dismissed him. It had found that the doctor had been called to see the patient on two occasions but on both occasions, instead of going to see, he had given incorrect advice on the phone and this had resulted in the patient’s death. When asked to provide a statement, the doctor had provided a completely false account and implicated a consultant by saying that he had received advice from the consultant regarding the patient’s management when that consultant had not even been on call.
- After the dismissal the doctor had maintained that he had spoken to the said consultant; he had even commenced a case in the Employment Tribunal claiming that the trust had suppressed documents which would have confirmed that the said consultant had indeed been on call. The trust had then produced evidence that the consultant concerned had not only not been on call, the doctor knew this because he had named someone else in a consent form he had completed in relation to another patient that night.
Expertise in Cognitive Neuroscience
Medic-Law represented the doctor. Having analysed the GMC case two key areas were identified: the calls made to the doctor from the ITU and the doctor’s statement accounting for his actions. In relation to the latter, while the doctor was adamant that the statement he had provided was a true account of his recollection, it was clear that his account was grossly inaccurate and misleading.
But, was his account dishonest? Given the degree of inaccuracy in the doctor’s statement, there was a real possibility that the tribunal would find him dishonest.
After careful analysis, Medic-Law decided to commission a report from an expert in cognitive neuroscience in relation to the doctor’s statement. The expert reported that the inaccuracy in the doctor’s account had a scientific explanation; the doctor’s poor initial recollection of events coupled with pressure over him from trust authorities to recall events had led to creation of ‘false memory’ and ‘reconstruction’.
A copy of the expert report was sent to the GMC. They were not pleased; the GMC threatened to commence another investigation into the doctor’s fitness to practise, and vigorously opposed the presenting of the expert evidence before the Medical Practitioners Tribunal, citing the case of R v Turner, which says that evidence cannot be allowed in deciding how a person reacts to stress and strains of life.
After concerted arguments, the tribunal accepted that the issue in this case was complex enough to allow the evidence from the expert.
Account was not dishonest
Based on the expert’s evidence, Medic Law was able to persuade the tribunal that the doctor’s account was not dishonest. Further, with careful forensic analysis, it was established that the incorrect advice that resulted in the patient’s death did not come from the doctor but came from someone else. The doctor has been completely cleared by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal.
The use of expert psychology evidence in Fitness to Practice hearings is probably unprecedented. Without this evidence, it would have been almost impossible to demonstrate that the doctor had not been dishonest.
While the doctor has had to learn many lessons, he is happy that the ordeal he has had to go through has come to an end.