Dr Mezey was a consultant psychiatrist who cared for a patient suffering from a persistent delusional disorder and/or paranoid schizophrenia. The patient had been voluntarily admitted to a medium secure unit and was allowed unsupervised release in the hospital grounds. The patient absconded and killed a stranger. A disciplinary panel reported that although Dr Mezey’s decision on unescorted leave was inappropriate, it did not amount to serious professional incompetence. The trust proposed to convene a disciplinary hearing to consider the fi ndings of the report in accordance with the Maintaining High Professional Standards in the Modern NHS 2003/2005 (MHPS) procedure. The trust indicated that the sanction, if any, would exclude dismissal and took the view that a reprimand would be appropriate. Dr Mezey obtained an injunction preventing the trust from holding a disciplinary hearing. The judge found that the trust could not, on the basis of the panel’s report, impose any disciplinary sanction as the purpose of the capability procedure was to improve future performance. As the report showed that there was no issue of lack of capability, no action was necessary.

The appeal was dismissed. A capability issue arose only if it could be shown that the doctor lacked knowledge, or ability, or had rendered consistently poor performance. This had not been found by the panel’s report. This had concluded that Dr Mezey was an obviously conscientious and competent consultant psychiatrist. Her mistake with regard to the grant of unescorted leave, which might well have been made by others, did not indicate any cause for concern that she was likely to put other patients or the public at risk in the future. The threshold for invoking any disciplinary procedure was not crossed. The trust was not entitled to commence disciplinary action and a capability panel hearing was impermissible.

Mezey v South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust [2010] EWCA Civ 293