GMC hearing reveals how doctor won deal to have earlier inquiry documents destroyed

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 23 November 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1189
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    A cardiologist who was suspended from practice for 12 months by the General Medical Council last week for using NHS research funds to subsidise his private practice was the subject of an earlier inquiry by his hospital, it was revealed last week.

    One of the terms of his severance agreement was that documents used in the internal inquiry would be destroyed, the GMC hearing was told.

    Clive Handler, the fundholder for the cardiology research fund at Northwick Park Hospitals NHS Trust between 1995 and 1997, was found guilty by the GMC of serious professional misconduct for using trust funds for his own purposes. But it became clear during the hearing that his conduct had also been investigated by Northwick Park before he left in 1998.

    When the internal inquiry was carried out, Professor Peter Richards, who is now chairman of the GMC's professional conduct committee, was the medical director of the trust.

    Professor Richards, who played no part in the GMC investigation of Dr Handler's case, said he had not personally conducted the internal inquiry at Northwick Park.

    ”I was the medical director and was responsible for seeing it was done but it was done through the finance department.

    “I certainly have not knowingly been party to there being no copy of the documents being lodged somewhere in safety. My understanding was that a copy of all the documents would be lodged somewhere as an inaccessible record but as a record. The trust board would have agreed the severance terms.”

    Dr Peter Wilmshurst, consultant cardiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, who reported Dr Handler to the GMC, said: “The GMC's solicitors told me that the destruction of the documents hampered the investigation.”

    The GMC's professional conduct committee found that Dr Handler, a consultant cardiologist, had made a number of payments that were outside the fund's research purposes, including Medical Defence Union subscriptions totalling £4040 ($6380; €6340). In addition, he used the funds to pay technicians at Northwick Park for investigations carried out on private patients of his who were not part of any research trial.

    The committee's chairman, Manny Devaux, told Dr Handler: “The result of your actions was that the cardiology research fund was used to subsidise your private practice. In effect you used the research fund to enrich yourself and this was a significant breach of trust.

    “The committee have no doubt about the seriousness with which they view your conduct. They have found your behaviour to be unprofessional and dishonest throughout. Your behaviour fell well short of the professional standards expected of medical practitioners and has brought the medical profession into disrepute.”

    But since there had been no risk to patients' safety, the committee decided not to strike Dr Handler off the medical register but to suspend him from practice.

    Dr Handler has been working in private practice in London.