May’s Medical Law News
30 May 2019
GDC personal conduct warnings, HCPC false earning claims, and additional GMC support for disabled doctors
Each month, the team at Medic Assistance Scheme finds articles and stories from the past few weeks that will help medical practitioners to stay on top of fitness to practise trends in their profession. If you have concerns relating to anything you’ve read on our website, contact us today.
Third of GDC warnings relate to personal conduct
The GDC has reported that just under a third of all warnings it issues are the result of matters relating to personal conduct. Of these personal conduct warnings, 75% were due to driving offences. An additional 27% of all warnings were related to dental record keeping.
The details come following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Dental Protection. The director of Dental Protection, Raj Rattan, has this to say: “The GDC investigation process can be very unsettling for dentists who fear that their reputation is at stake. If you receive a warning you will have to disclose details of the sanction in any future job applications. Any dentist who receives a published warning will also find that details of the warning are put on the GDC website”.
Although dental professionals may often feel that the offences they receive warnings for do not indicate a lack of fitness to practise, the GDC makes it very clear that behaving ethically and responsibly in their personal life is a requirement for maintaining registration. The repercussions of receiving a warning, published or otherwise, can affect job prospects and throw doubt on your fitness to practise for the rest of your career. It is a legal requirement to declare criminal convictions, and attempting to hide or obscure any sanctions received can lead to more severe punishment in the future.
The results of this FOI request clearly demonstrate how important it is for dentists to ensure they have high-quality legal support when facing GDC proceedings. Having effective legal protection can even prevent the risk of receiving a warning altogether. In some recent cases, legal advisors have successfully argued that warnings issued by the GDC were excessively strict and an inappropriate sanction.
Social worker struck off for falsely claiming £3,500 earnings for hours she did not work
A social worker in South Gloucestershire has been struck off from the HCPC register after falsely claiming almost £3,500 worth of earnings for hours she did not work. Jane Rosalind Gordon committed the offence over a two-year period and, following suspicions from a superior, an internal investigation began into her working hours.
During an HCPC tribunal in London on Friday 10th May 2019, which Mrs Gordon did not attend, it was ruled that her dishonesty equated to misconduct serious enough to warrant being struck off the register. Previously Mrs Gordon had been suspended for a period of six months to give her chance to “reflect on her past misconduct and take steps to remediate her misconduct”. However, the tribunal determined that she had refused to interact with the HCPC as required.
Mrs Gordon had claimed that the incorrect clocking-in times were “unintentional” and due to a “data error”. After her manager advised Mrs Gordon to use the automated scanning system instead, she continued to record her start and end times manually.
The ruling of Mrs Gordon’s HCPC tribunal stated: “Given the serious nature of the misconduct which involved dishonesty over a prolonged period concerning a significant sum of money, the Panel considered the matter too serious to take no action or for a caution order. […] In all the circumstances, the Panel determined that the only appropriate and proportionate sanction was a striking off order.”
Mrs Gordon’s case is a good example of how important it is to engage with regulators during fitness to practise hearings. Her lack of attendance or engagement throughout the investigation process did not help her situation at all, as often sanctions can be reduced by showing insight into actions, offering mitigating circumstances and committing to taking steps to ensure that something similar doesn’t happen again. Expert representation is a necessity in cases such as this, as an experienced HCPC defence lawyer would have been able to advise Mrs Gordon on how to conduct herself throughout the proceedings.
Disabled doctors set to receive additional support under new GMC plans
The GMC has published new guidance outlining plans for additional support to be provided to disabled doctors and medical students. The plans are designed to offer a greater level of flexibility and a wider range of tools to medical students and junior doctors to help them maximise their own potential.
Professor Colin Melville, medical director and director of education and standards at the GMC, admitted that “there are often inconsistencies in the support [disabled doctors] receive while they are training and learning”. The new guidance is a direct response to this acknowledgment and Professor Melville states it will provide “practical advice for medical schools and training locations about what they can do to make sure students and doctors with disabilities are supported.”
The recommendations put forward by the GMC include arranging dedicated contacts, setting up support groups, and forming new strategies to help doctors perform as required. The Council worked with disabled doctors who advised on the new recommendations, which also include advice for educators on complying with UK equality legislation.
It’s estimated that around 9% of the medical student population have a declared disability, and nearly 10% of provisional registration applicants in 2017 declared a health condition. Therefore it’s excellent to see that the GMC recognises the diverse variety of needs of its members and is taking active steps in the right direction to ensure the best doctors can be recruited, regardless of their background.
It’s also a great reassurance to know that the Council was advised on the new guidelines by disabled doctors, which should help to ensure that the recommendations are as practical, suitable, and helpful as possible. These reviewed guidelines should ensure that no one is unfairly discriminated against in fitness to practise situations, as they will ensure that everyone has the support needed to perform to the best of their abilities at all times, rather than running into avoidable issues arising from a lack of support.
The Medic Assistance Scheme’s lawyers can help medical professionals in many of the areas referred to in these news topics. See below for the services that relate to May’s stories: