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Regulatory body fails in bid to challenge GMC's ruling on suspension

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 15 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:914

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  1. Clare Dyer, Legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    The Council for the Regulation of Healthcare Professionals last week lost an appeal to the High Court against a decision by the General Medical Council (GMC) to suspend a GP for three months for sexual misconduct and dishonesty.

    In one of its first cases, the new watchdog for health professionals' disciplinary bodies argued that the sanction was “unduly lenient” and should be reviewed to protect the interests of the public.

    Mr Justice Leveson, who said the case raised interesting and important issues, dismissed the appeal but reserved his reasons to a later date.

    He upheld a decision by the GMC last December to impose a three month suspension on Dr Olagbalekan Solanke after he admitted that he had had a sexual relationship with a woman patient whom he was treating for depression and had falsified his birth certificate and curriculum vitae.

    Dr Solanke conducted the six month affair while working at Drumnadrochit Medical Centre in Inverness.

    The council's counsel, Fenella Morris, argued that the three month suspension was “unduly lenient” in failing to tackle adequately the risk of harm in the form of future inappropriate sexual relationships with women on Dr Solanke's return to work.

    She told the judge: “There is particular anxiety about the protection to the public afforded by these regulatory bodies.” Patients needed protection “from people that the public would otherwise have a reason to trust,” she added.

    The sentence was also unduly lenient for the falsification of documents because it failed to tackle the risk of future harm, the council argued. It was concerned that the GMC had not investigated the allegations adequately and therefore had an incomplete picture of the risk posed by the 52 year old GP.

    The council submitted that Dr Solanke, now of Bramley Hill, South Croydon, had been found guilty of two of the three most serious kinds of misconduct, which may require removal from the register—sexual misconduct and dishonesty. It argued that a bare period of suspension, without recommendations for action, a resumed hearing, or conditions of practice, left Dr Solanke without adequate advice and assistance in his future practice. As a result, it said, there was a continuing risk to the public.

    In imposing the three-month suspension on Dr Solanke, who had altered his birthdate on his cv to make himself appear six years younger, the GMC's professional conduct committee took into account that he had already been suspended for six months from the GP practice he worked in.

    According to the committee's chairman, Professor Norman Mackay, other factors were his remorse and his frank admissions that he had been wrong, the fact that he had been in a “distressed state” due to “unfortunate circumstances” in his personal life, and the fact that he was a competent doctor well-regarded by colleagues and patients.

    The GMC must strike a balance between the interests of the doctor and the interests of the patient, he said adding that a doctor who believes a penalty has been unduly harsh has a right to challenge it in the courts.

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