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Surgeon facing fitness to practise allegations can leave medical register

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g2391 (Published 26 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2391
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

A surgeon accused of botching operations over an 18 year period at four hospitals in Kent has been allowed to remove himself from the medical register after a hearing behind closed doors.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) accepted expert evidence that David Jackson, who faced a 45 day hearing with 75 counts relating to 16 patients between 1989 and 2007, was so ill that he was unable to instruct his lawyers or participate in a hearing, and would never be fit to practise medicine again.

The tribunal service panel said that his illness, details of which were not revealed, could have affected his performance since 2004. “The panel is satisfied that the public, if they knew of the severity and chronicity of Mr Jackson’s illness, would be satisfied that their interests had been taken into consideration even though the fitness to practise allegation remains unanswered,” said panel chairman Anthony Morgan.

Jackson, aged 68, had previously applied to be allowed to take himself off the register but the tribunal service turned down his request. A high court judge quashed that decision, ruling that the reasons given were insufficient, and the case went back to a fresh panel.1

The new panel heard that seven independent medical practitioners agreed that Jackson suffered from a longstanding chronic health condition, and three gave oral evidence that he should be allowed to remove himself from the register. This time the General Medical Council (GMC), the UK medical regulator, supported the move.

The GMC’s chief executive, Niall Dickson, apologised to the patients affected and their families for the delay in resolving the case and said that what had happened “shows an urgent need to change the law.”

He added, “We feel strongly that, where we believe a doctor poses a risk to patient safety and the doctor is willing to leave the register, we should be able to deal with this as swiftly as possible. Back in 2011, we consulted on reforms, akin to a form of ‘dishonourable discharge,’ and we received strong support for the idea. Under this approach, they could be allowed to leave the register but in doing so we would make the circumstances in which they were leaving plain for all to see.”

Dickson called on the government to introduce a forthcoming Law Commission bill to streamline healthcare regulators’ procedures in the next session of parliament. The bill is expected to be published in a few weeks’ time.

In their joint consultation paper, the three law commissions for England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland proposed that regulators should have statutory powers to agree to voluntary erasure at the investigation stage of a complaint.2

“We also believe that doctors who have harmed patients should acknowledge this and apologise to patients and their families,” Dickson said. “Later this year, we will consult on new guidance to our decision makers and to the autonomous MPTS [Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service] panels on the role of apologies and the requirement that doctors in those circumstances make a full and appropriate apology.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2391

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