A newly qualified doctor has been issued with a warning by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) after he punched a nightclub bouncer while celebrating his graduation from medical school.

Background

The doctor in this case, Sam Jones, had been on a day out with friends at Chester Races in October 2017. Dr Jones was celebrating a friend’s birthday and his own graduation from Newcastle University. The group then went to a nightclub in Chester and Dr Jones and his friend were asked to leave the nightclub by door staff after a friend climbed onto Dr Jones’ shoulders. Both men were escorted down two flights of stairs before Dr Jones then punched one of the door staff. He was arrested and subsequently accepted a police caution for assault by beating. As a result of the police caution, the matter was investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC) and Dr Jones then faced a hearing before the MPTS last week.

MPTS Hearing

Dr Jones attended the MPTS hearing, reportedly only 6 weeks after starting his first job working in A&E at Sunderland Hospital, and gave evidence to the Tribunal. Dr Jones told the Tribunal that he had felt that he had been unfairly treated by the nightclub bouncers but that he greatly regretted his actions. He told the Tribunal that he accepted his actions were not acceptable and that he was “extremely ashamed” of his behaviour.

Dr Jones told the Tribunal that he had initially told the police that he did not punch the bouncer as he thought that he had just pushed him. However, having been shown CCTV footage of the incident during his police interview Dr Jones accepted and admitted his actions. The Tribunal heard from Dr Jones that he had reflected on the incident and that he was certain that he would not find himself in such a position again. Dr Jones provided testimonial evidence from senior colleagues which stated that he was professional and hard working with very good clinical skills. A letter from Dr Jones’ supervisor added that he was “truly remorseful and keen to put this behind him and progress in his career”.

Commentary

In Dr Jones case, the Tribunal’s decision to issue a warning allows the MPTS to indicate that Dr Jones’ conduct and behaviour represented a departure from the standards expected of members of the profession and should not be repeated. Dr Jones’ own evidence and the evidence he produced from senior clinicians will have demonstrated insight to the Tribunal, which is likely to have assisted him when the Tribunal were weighing up both the aggravating and mitigating factors of his case.

Whilst a warning does not restrict a doctor’s practice, it is a significant response from a regulator and shows that the Tribunal reached the view that the concerns were serious and fell only just below the threshold for a finding of impaired fitness to practise.

Of further note is the fact that the allegation at the MPTS hearing was in relation to Dr Jones having accepted a police caution. The barrister representing Dr Jones told the Tribunal that Dr Jones did not seek legal assistance at the police station and accepted the caution offered to him by the police. To someone in circumstances where they have never before been arrested, accepting a police caution may seem like the preferable option to refusing a caution and risking being charged and sentenced at Court.

Often professionals do not realise at the time that accepting a police caution means that they will almost certainly then face an investigation by their regulator. For those registered with the GMC, paragraph 76 of Good Medical Practice provides that a Registrant must tell the GMC, without delay, if they accept a caution from the police.

We do not know what would have happened with Dr Jones’ criminal case if he had had legal advice at the police station but it is imperative that any professional in any such circumstances seeks appropriate legal advice.

Finally, this case serves as a stark reminder to all professionals to be mindful of the fact that behaviour in your private life can impact on your professional position.