Intended for healthcare professionals


Consultant found guilty of failing to act on colleague

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 26 March 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:809
  1. Clare Dyer

    A senior consultant was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council (GMC) last week for failing to investigate complaints that a locum was endangering patients. The professional conduct committee found Dr Sean Dunn, 45, who is chairman of the anaesthetics division of East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, guilty for not having acted on concerns that colleagues had expressed about the competence of Dr Behrooz Irani. But the committee took into account a shortage of anaesthetists and problems in procedures for locum appointments and imposed no sanction on Dr Dunn.

    Dr Irani, who was struck off last July, was allowed to work in two NHS hospitals because of staff shortages, the GMC heard. In August 1992 at Castle Hill Hospital, Hill, he left a 33 year old man seriously brain damaged and in a persistent vegetative state after an open discectomy. Six months later a similar tragedy was narrowly averted at the Royal Hospital, Hull, when Dr Irani left the operating theatre to make a telephone call. He had had his registration suspended by the GMC for three months in 1991 after being found guilty at Grimsby Crown Court of stealing two ventilators from Scunthorpe General Hospital.

    The GMC used Dr Dunn's case to send a message to the profession about its duty to protect patients even if this means reporting a colleague or refusing to give a reference. The president, Sir Robert Kilpatrick, told Dr Dunn that it was “pure chance of seniority” that he was in charge of the anaesthetics division during Dr Irani's time as a locum but reminded him that the office placed duties and responsibilities on the holder.

    “Doctors who have reason to believe that a colleague's conduct or professional performance poses a danger to patients must act to ensure patient safety. Before taking action in such a situation, doctors should do their best to establish the facts. Where there is doubt it is unethical for any doctor to give a reference about a colleague, particularly if it may result in the employment of that doctor elsewhere. References about colleagues must be carefully considered; comments made in them must be justifiable, offered in good faith and intended to promote the best interests of patients.”

    Sir Robert said that doctors had a duty to use the appropriate procedures promptly after reports of evident and dangerous incompetence. “At all times patient safety must take precedence over all other concerns, including understandable reticence to bring a colleague's career into question.”

    A working party appointed by the chief medical officer is investigating the system of appointing locums, and another is soon to report on procedures for dealing with reports of professional incompetence.--CLARE DYER, legal correspondent, BMJ

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