General Medical Council allows doctors with major convictions to carry on treating patients

By Lucy Johnston, Health Editor

THOUSANDS of patients are being treated by doctors convicted of serious crimes or punished for appallingly non-professional conduct.

The Sunday Express examined hundreds of files and uncovered scores of medics who are allowed to practise in spite of committing shocking offences.

Under the law all cautions and convictions given to doctors have to be examined by their governing body, the General Medical Council.

However, in many cases the GMC allows the disgraced medics to continue practising, while issuing a warning or temporary suspension.

A small number of court cases hits the headlines. Others, including cases of assault, drink driving, drug abuse and domestic violence, remain unpublicised and can only be found in the archives of the GMC website.

The Sunday Express examined details of misconduct hearings over the last year and our inquiries uncovered:

Two doctors allowed to work after manslaughter convictions.

An anaesthetist who watched a movie, read a newspaper and fell asleep during surgery.

A medic responsible for a hit-and-run car crash who was suspended for just nine months.

A doctor who punched a woman in the face who was suspended for three months.

A physician who failed to report his concerns about morphine doses administered by the serial killer Dr Harold Shipman.

Our investigation comes two years after the Shipman inquiry called for a radical overhaul of the GMC, which was accused of “looking after its own” and doing too little to protect patients.

Dame Janet Smith, who led the Shipman inquiry, recommended that the GMC no longer has sole responsibility for assessing doctors’ fitness to practise. The GMC says it has made wholesale changes, but our research indicates the reforms have not gone far enough.

In a previous interview Dame Janet said: “I am by no means convinced that new GMC procedures will protect patients.” Magda Taylor, of patients’ group The Informed Parent, said: “Why would I want to go and see a doctor if he was a drug addict, done for manslaughter or had beaten someone up?

These cases show many are working who are not healthy minded.” Doctors convicted of the most serious offences can practise for months and even years while they await a GMC hearing.

Three years ago Dr Amit Misra and Dr Rajeev Srivastava were convicted of manslaughter due to gross negligence following the death of six-year-old Sean Phillips at Southampton General Hospital in June 2000 during a routine knee operation.

The doctors failed to react to obvious warning signs that Sean had developed an infection and he died.

Despite warnings from the hospital trust to the GMC, a police investigation and the subsequent manslaughter conviction in April 2003, the GMC did not take action until October 2005 – more than five years after Sean’s death.

A misconduct committee suspended Dr Misra from the register and allowed Dr Srivastava to practise under supervision.

In a GMC hearing last July, Dr Christopher Vella Bonnici was found guilty of failing to realise a 35-year-old patient was awake during surgery at a Birmingham hospital.

Weeks later, he watched a DVD on his laptop during an operation and in January 2004 another woman who was awake during surgery said she felt instruments being inserted.

Dr Bonnici was also found guilty of reading a newspaper and sleeping during other operations.

The GMC hearing concluded his conduct was “unprofessional, irresponsible and below standard”.

It suspended Dr Bonnici for a month. In another case last year, Dr Graeme Holt was convicted of assault in Glasgow.

He pushed a woman on to a bed and punched her in the face, severely injuring her. The GMC suspended him for three months.

Dr Szymon Jozef Niemiec failed to appear before a GMC hearing in January after his car struck a 12-year-old boy and he fled the scene. The GMC suspended him for nine months.

Many cases involve doctors convicted of drug offences. Dr Richard Archer, 41, pleaded guilty to stealing morphine, pethidine and diamorphine in King’s Lynn in July 2003.

Archer was a partner at the Heacham, Norfolk group of surgeries which cover the Queen’s Sandringham estate.

He received a 12-month suspended jail sentence. When the conviction was assessed by the GMC last December it ruled that Dr Archer, now practising in Wilmslow, Cheshire, could work under supervision for 12 months.

A spokeswoman for the GMC said: “Our primary concern is not protecting doctors but patient safety.

We try to hear cases as quickly as possible.” The Sunday Express contacted the doctors named in this report but they were either unavailable or declined to comment.

Sunday September 23, 2007
Source: Sunday Express
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