Will the courts intervene to save the career of a registered healthcare professional subsequent to erasure for matters involving dishonesty?

Dr Ayyub lodged an appeal against the decision of a Fitness to Practise Panel (FTPP) of the General Medical Council (GMC) to erase his name from the Medical Register. The decision related to two incidents:

  1. Dr Ayyub discharged a patient without viewing test results, but recorded on the computer records a note which suggested that he had viewed all the relevant results. Further, his account of the incident was found to be inconsistent and dishonest; and
  2. On 8 April 2009, Dr Ayyub downloaded some pornographic material onto a hospital computer whilst he was conducting a pre-assessment clinic.

When questioned about the aforementioned patient, Dr Ayyub gave inconsistent and evasive answers regarding whether he had removed the patient from the hospital in a wheelchair.

When questioned about the matter on 8 April 2009, Dr Ayyub stated that he had been re-routed to the pornographic site, and that he had no intention to view the material. Dr Ayyub further stated that when he attempted to close the image, it opened and started to download.

The account provided by Dr Ayyub was completely at odds with the IT investigation, which showed that on an unsuccessful first attempt to download the pornographic material, Dr Ayyub had continued in his pursuit.

The basis of Dr Ayyub’s appeal was the severity of the sanction of erasure imposed by the FTPP.

The FTPP confirmed that they had approached Dr Ayyub’s case in three stages in accordance with general practice. Further, the FTPP recognised that the primary function of the GMC is to promote and maintain the health and safety of the public. The FTPP’s main concern was the issue of probity, and the clearly misleading explanations Dr Ayyub advanced in respect of both incidents. The FTPP was concerned that Dr Ayyub showed a distinct lack of insight, and therefore considered erasure to be the only appropriate sanction.

The Court of Appeal reiterated the premise that FTPP’s should be, “given particular respect in its approach towards the question of sanction, since its members are likely to be well placed to determine appropriate measures required to maintain the standards and reputation of the medical profession”.

Quoting Lord Bingham in the case of Bolton v Law Society [1994] 2 All ER 486, “the reputation of the profession is more important than the fortunes of any individual member. Membership of a profession brings many benefits, but that is part of the price”.

Dr Ayyub’s appeal was dismissed.

This case reinforces how seriously tribunals view dishonesty. Further, it reiterates the widely held view that the courts consider FTPP’s to be best placed to deal with regulatory matters, and that the cornerstone of the profession is its reputation and good standing. The courts are clearly reluctant to interfere with sanctions imposed by FTPP’s, unless it can be clearly shown that they have taken inappropriate considerations into account, or that the sanction imposed was wholly disproportionate.