GMC hearing against GP who ran out of hours was “disastrous,” says judgeBMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g267 (Published 16 January 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g267
The High Court has refused an application by the General Medical Council (GMC) to extend a GP’s interim suspension to four and a half years pending the resolution of a misconduct case against him, and criticised the regulator for “unconscionable delay.”
Judge Mark Pelling said that the GMC made the application after a “disastrous” hearing that started last June in the case of Ravi Sondhi, former director of the out of hours service Croydoc. The hearing was scheduled to last for 30 days but only nine days’ worth of evidence was heard in that time.1
The GMC was obliged to relist the rest of the case to be heard in various time slots ending in March 2014, and wanted Sondhi to continue to be suspended from practice while the case was heard.
Sondhi is accused of taking financial advances of up to £100 000 (€120 000; $163 000) from Croydoc, failing to ensure an adequate level of doctor coverage, and misrepresenting to fellow directors the level of cover that was provided. The GMC also alleges that on occasions he was at his home in Norfolk 140 miles away when on duty in the Croydon area in south London.
Judge Pelling’s judgment was delivered in September 2013 at the High Court in Manchester but has just been published. The judge said that the procedural history of the case was “in a number of respects highly unsatisfactory.”
Sondhi was first suspended under an interim order in January 2010, and previous extensions had been granted by the court with the consent of both parties. The judge said that the last time he was asked to approve an extension, for five months in March 2013, he did so only because it was by consent and he had remarked at the time that three and two thirds years was “far too long.”
Judge Pelling said four and a half days of the original 30 days had been taken up with an application by Sondhi for one of the fitness to practise panel members to stand down. Most of that time had been spent by the panel attempting to reach a decision on the point. The panel had decided that the member’s undisclosed involvement in an out of hours service and some of his questioning could lead a fair minded observer to conclude that he was biased, and he should step down.
The judge said that there were no allegations that any patient had come to harm and, except for the probity issues, all the other allegations could and should have been dealt with by the imposition of conditions rather than by suspension pending the outcome of the case.
He accepted the submission by Sondhi’s counsel Mary O’Rourke QC that conditions banning him from working in a financial or administrative role would have provided proportionate protection.
“The allegations of dishonesty that are made against the defendant are serious but to suspend by reference to those allegations is not necessary, in my judgment, for the protection of the public and is unnecessary and disproportionate,” he added. “It takes no or no sufficient account of the fact that the alleged dishonesty does not relate to the treatment of patients and it ignores the point that the defendant has practised as a medical practitioner for 29 years without any complaint against him being upheld.”
Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g267