The High Court declined the GMC’s application for an extension of an interim order on the basis that public confidence would not require the maintenance of an interim order for a 75 year old general practitioner with no realistic prospect of continued practice.

Judgment date: 01 September 2014

Background

The GMC applied for an extension of an Interim Conditions of Practice Order imposed on 4 March 2013 for a period of 18 months in respect of Dr Suntha (Dr S).

Dr S had practised as a General Practitioner since 1980. In 2010, the GMC received a complaint from the son of Mr R, a former patient of Dr S, concerning Dr S’s prescription of the drug Promethazine.

An investigation instigated as a result of this complaint concluded that there was no evidence of harm and the matter was not taken further. In response, three of the partners of Dr S wrote to the GMC, citing 35 incidences of alleged malpractice and expressing grave concern about his professional performance and probity. The GMC subsequently acquired an expert report in February 2013, which concluded that Dr S’s care of Mr R, “fell below the standard expected of a reasonably competent general practitioner”.

On 4 March 2013, the Interim Orders Panel imposed an Interim Conditions of Practice Order. Dr S ceased practice on that date as his partners refused to make the appropriate arrangements for his supervision. Dr S has not worked in any capacity since that time.

On 1 October 2013, Dr S retired and was removed from the NHS England Performers list; as such he is no longer eligible to practice as a GP in the NHS in the UK. Furthermore, Dr S did not renew his retention fee and, in a letter dated 13th February 2014, the General Medical Council said that if that fee was not paid he would be erased from the Register.

The Interim Orders Panel, following a review of the order in January 2014, maintained the Conditions. The Panel considered that although Dr S had retired and had been removed from the Performers list this would not preclude him from engaging in other spheres of medical practice.

Application

On 1 September 2014, the GMC submitted that the public confidence required the continuation of the Interim Order as the public would not consider it “satisfactory that a doctor against whom there are allegations of this nature should conceivably be able to remain on the Medical Register”.

Decision

The Court in considering the application took into account a witness statement from Dr S which confirmed that he had “no intention whatsoever of practicing again as a general practitioner. In any event I will be unable to do so having been removed from the Performers List and my lacking of policy of indemnity insurance”.

The Court, notwithstanding the concerns about Dr S’s lack of probity, accepted this evidence and further noted that the GMC had accepted that the prospects of Dr S practicing again were “very remote indeed”.

The Judge, citing the case of GMC v Hiew [2007] 1 WLR 2207, made clear that he must be satisfied that the continuation of the order was “necessary for the protection of members of the public or otherwise in the public interest”. In light of Dr S’s express intention not to practice as a general practitioner and the lack of any real prospect that would enable him to, the application for an extension of the interim order was dismissed.

A case which indicates that public confidence in the profession and regulatory process may not require an Interim Order where the practitioner is, as a matter of fact, not going to practice. The Court rejected submissions on behalf of the GMC that the public may find it unsatisfactory that a doctor against whom there are serious concerns should have their name on the register in such circumstances.

Stephen Ferson