In a recent case, the High Court has made clear that extensions to interim suspension orders will be granted where the allegations, evidence and risk to the public warrant such, but that regulators must act with expedition to conclude the substantive case.
In GMC v Venugula Rao Srinivas, the GMC applied under section 41A(6) and (7) of the Medical Act 1983 (the Act) for a six month extension of an interim suspension order imposed on the respondent, a locum GP.
The respondent had first been suspended on 10 June 2010 following a criminal investigation into his allegedly carrying out unwarranted intimate examinations on patients. At trial, the respondent had been found not guilty of all charges.
Subsequently, further complaints arose in relation to the respondent having falsified records.
The application in this case represented the fourth time that the court had been asked to extend the period of interim suspension. In deciding whether to grant an extension, His Honour Judge Andrew Gilbart QC, sitting as a deputy High Court Judge, examined, in detail, the statutory provisions under section 41A of the Act and guidance given by Arden LJ in the Court of Appeal in GMC v Hiew  EWCA Civ 369. In particular, HHJ Gilbart looked to the guidance regarding the need to consider the gravity of the allegations, the nature of the evidence, the risk of harm to patients, the reasons why the case had not been concluded and the prejudice to the respondent if the order were to continue.
HHJ Gilbart rejected the applicant’s argument that, when considering if an extension was necessary or proportionate, the court should disregard the potential for the Interim Orders Panel to impose conditions. In his judgment, he stated that it was ‘impossible’ to dismiss this fact as irrelevant.
The court also rejected the respondent’s argument that his acquittal at criminal trial meant he was no longer required to answer allegations relating to misconduct.
Applying the approach in Hiew, the court noted that the allegations in the present case were very serious and, if proved, would result in a finding of serious professional misconduct against the respondent – with the public having been put at risk. The court noted that the allegations were supported by evidence from affected patients, medical records and expert evidence; and further that, if proved, both or either allegation demonstrated conduct which posed a real risk to patients and could lead to the respondent being prevented from practising.
The court also considered the fact that a period of ten months had elapsed from the GMC having first received the evidence and files from the police. It noted the judge’s concerns from the previous renewal hearing with regards to delay and agreed that the GMC should ‘act with expedition’ because the respondent’s ability to practise was affected. The court also considered, and agreed with, the Interim Order Panel’s view that there were no conditions which would adequately protect the public/public interest and therefore that suspension was proportionate.
The court did not, however, grant the full extension requested. It noted that the combination of the length of time since the suspension had first been imposed and the fact that the respondent had been acquitted made expedition by the GMC ‘essential’. In granting a four month extension of the order, the court made clear that if a further application to extend was made, clear evidence of progression by the GMC would be required.