News

High Court overturns two GMC judgments and sends them back to be heard by new panels

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e7249 (Published 26 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7249
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

A GP who was struck off by the General Medical Council for sexual misconduct amounting to “gross violation of the fundamental rules relating to the relationship between doctor and patient” has won a High Court ruling quashing the findings.

Mr Justice Kenneth Parker ruled that the GMC fitness to practise panel in the case of Edouard Yaacoub gave inadequate reasons for deciding that the patient, a 56 year old widow with spastic paraplegia who gave an increasingly lurid account of what had happened to her, was a credible witness.

The inadequacy of the panel’s reasoning for accepting the evidence of the GMC’s main witness as credible is the same basis on which the Court of Appeal quashed the decision to strike the paediatrician David Southall off the medical register.1 In his case, the witness was a mother who said Southall had accused her of murdering her son.

The ruling in Yaacoub’s case is the latest in a series of judgments, embarrassing for the GMC, in which the High Court has found serious faults in the decision making of fitness to practise panels. In a judgment in July in the case of GP and former care home owner Salma Uddin, Mr Justice Singh found flawed reasoning on five counts of dishonesty and suggested that the panel showed “a fundamentally flawed understanding of the concept of dishonesty.”

Both GPs were represented for their High Court appeals by Mary O’Rourke QC, who also acted for Southall in the Appeal Court, and in both cases the judges cited the Southall case in their judgments.

Yaacoub, originally from Egypt, worked as a salaried GP in London and for Westcall, an out-of-hours locum service in Reading. He saw “Patient A” twice on 17 January 2010 after she phoned Westcall to say she had fallen at home.

Patient A made no complaint about Yaacoub’s conduct until nine days later, when she phoned NHS Direct and said he had attempted to touch her private parts, made inappropriate sexual allusions, and asked her to have sex with him.

The allegations escalated when she was interviewed by police, and again in her witness statement for the GMC case, when she alleged that he took his clothes off and attempted to rape her. In her oral evidence to the panel, she described actions that amounted to twice trying to rape her vaginally and succeeding in raping her anally.

The judge said he was “deeply troubled” by the aspect of the appeal relating to the panel’s reasoning. A’s account had “radically shifted” and on matters where it could be objectively tested, it “did not stand up well to scrutiny.”

He added: “Patient A fundamentally changed, over time, the nature of the sexual misconduct on the part of Dr Y, culminating in her evidence to the panel that he actually raped her on the second visit. In my view, the treatment of her evidence by the panel does not, with sufficient clarity and precision, indicate that the panel truly recognised the difficulty posed by such a fundamental shift.”

Uddin, a GP in Wallington, Surrey, bought a care home with her husband in 2004. In March 2011 the panel found her guilty of dishonesty in trying to get a manager at the home placed on a list of those banned from working with vulnerable adults, and ordered her to be struck off the medical register.

Both cases have been sent back to the GMC. In Yaacoub’s case the GMC must decide whether it wants to run the case all over again but if so, it must be heard by a new panel—this time a panel of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, which took over responsibility for doctors’ fitness to practise hearings last June.  Uddin’s case was sent back for a new panel to take it forward with the findings of dishonesty quashed.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7249

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