The General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK recently appealed a determination of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal (MPT) suspending the registration of a general practitioner for a period of 12 months and ordering a review hearing. The GMC argued that the sanction imposed was insufficient to protect the public and that the doctor should have been erased from the medical register.

The High Court quashed the sanction imposed by the MPT and substituted it with the ultimate sanction of erasure from the medical register.

Background

Dr Stone self-reported to the GMC following the conclusion of a sexual relationship with a vulnerable female patient, whom he continued to treat during the currency of that relationship. The relationship had lasted between November 2011 and July 2014.

At the hearing, Dr Stone made certain admissions, including that he had: visited the patient at her home in order to engage in sexual activity, sent her text messages of a sexual and personal nature, and on numerous occasions, engaged in sexual activity with the patient in a consulting room at his GP practice. The doctor disputed that he had been dishonest by failing to disclose his sexual relationship with the patient when providing letters in support of her claim for benefits.

Appeal to the High Court

On appeal, the GMC argued that the MPT had misconstrued or failed to consider the relevant Sanctions Guidance and that they placed disproportionate weight on the evidence of Dr Stone’s treating medical consultant psychotherapist. The GMC also submitted that the MPT failed to give appropriate weight to the issue of dishonesty and that the sanction was “simply wrong” in light of the seriousness of the misconduct, the only appropriate sanction being erasure.

In delivering judgment, Mr Justice Jay stated that it was with some regret that the case falls into the category where the doctor must be erased. He referred to the gravity, duration and extent of the misconduct, and the appropriate weight to be given to the available mitigation.

Conclusion

In Ireland, the High Court has a role in confirming certain sanctions imposed by a number of professional regulators, including the Medical Council. In a recent case the High Court has confirmed that the court is mandated to confirm a decision of the Medical Council “unless it sees good reason not to do so” [Medical Council v M.A.G.A. [2016] IEHC 779].

While this UK decision is not binding on Irish courts, it provides useful guidance for regulatory bodies in considering and imposing appropriate sanctions in similar cases.

The court directed reporting restrictions in respect of Dr Stone’s health condition and a redacted version of the judgment was published, which can be found here.