First loyalty was to his patients, former BMA chairman tells GMC

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 25 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6007
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

Jim Johnson, the BMA’s previous chairman, denied putting the representation of doctors before his duties to his patients as he gave evidence in his defence at a General Medical Council hearing in Manchester.

A former consultant surgeon at Halton and Warrington hospitals in Cheshire, he faces charges of misconduct and deficient professional performance involving 14 patients, including performing unnecessary operations, failing to obtain informed consent, failing to involve himself in patients’ postoperative care, and being rude to colleagues (BMJ 2010;341:c5883, doi:10.1136/bmj.c5883).

The GMC alleges that patients missed out while he juggled the role of surgeon with heading the BMA, a role he filled between 2003 and 2007. But he told the fitness to practise panel that he was perfectly able to combine his surgical job with carrying out his other commitments in London and abroad.

“It was certainly a very busy life. I was working a 100 hour week most of the time. I would do a full working day [at the hospitals], which would amount to 12 hours, each Monday and Friday,” he said.

“At Halton my consultant colleagues were used to my rather unusual way of life, and we had no difficulties at all about covering each other. People could get hold of me whenever they wanted to, and they did.”

Mr Johnson told the panel, “The work I did for various organisations was very time consuming, but my first loyalty was and is to my patients. If I had to choose between them, without the slightest shadow of a doubt I would have chosen the clinical work, which I always found rewarding and highly satisfactory.”

Asked whether patients missed out as a result of his other commitments he replied, “I don’t think so at all. I have been doing this a very long time, and we had a very well developed system for dealing with problems.”

He denied that his working practices had become out of date, citing annual appraisals he was required to undergo. “There was never any question in my appraisals about my keeping up to date.”

When he opened the case last month the GMC’s counsel, Andrew Colman, told the panel that during one operation in July 2007 Mr Johnson moved from “initial irritation, through increasing exasperation, to outright aggression.” He accidentally struck a house officer in the forehead with a needle, and when staff tried to tell him a bulldog clip was still in the patient’s leg he was “in no mood to listen” and sewed the leg up, Mr Colman said.

Mr Colman said that Mr Johnson’s behaviour “reflected rather a caricature of surgical arrogance that was out of place even decades ago, other than through the lampooning lens of cinema comedies.”

The hearing is scheduled to finish near the end of November.


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6007

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