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A GMC Odyssey

07 Dec 2016

Dr Dermot J Ward recalls the treatment of his colleague and friend the late Dr John Harding Price by the General Medical Council in the UK, and his frustrations at recent dealings with the IMC

Dr Dermot Ward

Some of you may recall an IMT piece I wrote three years ago (‘Revamped General Medical Council revisited’, December 6, 2013), in which I recorded my attendance as a supporting witness for a friend and colleague, Dr John Harding Price.

He was appealing for restoration of his good name to the GMC Register at a Hearing (May 8-10, 2013) in the lately, not in London, but at the more recent Manchester-based Medical Practitioner Tribunal Service (MPTS), as a non-validated doctor. He was already well into his retirement.

In the piece, I anonymised him as ‘Tom’ at the time though with hindsight I realise he wouldn’t have minded, and might indeed have preferred if I had used his real name.

Initially, I had offered to accompany him for moral support, so to speak, having read two supporting documents, one a judgement from Mr Justice Frederick Morris in Dublin’s High Court on August 10, 2001. This was because following his being struck-off the UK GMC he had come to Ireland to earn a crust and shortly thereafter this was brought to the attention of the court.

That court could find no reason to stop his working in Ireland but did direct that he should have a full fitness to practise hearing with the Irish Medical Council (IMC), which declared he was so fit. Clearly I am not the best person to opine but the judgment to me seemed singularly appropriate.

The second support document was from a widely regarded English MP Austin Mitchell and if space in these matters was not tight, any fair-minded person reading it would also declare he had no case to answer. It was then I decided I would become a formal witness support.

My intention was to read those two above documents to the panel and I felt sure that these were so impressive that no reasonably independent panel could arrive only at a conclusion to restore his good name to the GMC Register at its hearing. Inter alia, I was refused permission to read either when on the afternoon of the third day I gave evidence under oath. His Restoration Appeal failed.

The IMT piece mentioned above elaborates on the injustice, which I perceived to occur. All of the above in a sense sets the stage for further developments.

Initially, I had feelings of puzzled impotence and frustration at what seemed a blatantly perverse ruling. On a personal level I recall the last evening in Manchester and having dinner in the hotel with John and his wife Betty. When he was absent for a few minutes I confessed that I felt I had been utterly useless.

Betty retorted: “No, if you had not been there I think John would have died.” But she had been present throughout the hearing, the only person in the public area witnessing and suffering the full three days of her husband’s legal torment. Within about three months she had died.

IMC query
Moving away from that sad business for a moment, since that time I have wondered about a possible dilution of the assumed fairness of IMC hearings. Not too surprisingly I have been curious about the functioning of the Irish Medical Council. Because of this I telephoned the Council in Dublin in March 2014 with a view to being given the name of the most appropriate doctor there for me to write to and gave a rough outline of what I wanted to explore.

The receptionist immediately mentioned Dr X.

Shortly thereafter, on March 19, 2014, I wrote to Dr X (obviously not his real name) along the following lines. I outlined my background in brief in that of changing domicile (after some 20 years at consultant level in Dublin) permanently from Ireland to England in 1986. In 1988, I had voluntarily removed myself from the Irish Medical Register to avoid paying twice!

I understood that I retained a ‘dormant’ place on the Register — my old membership number was 09366, but that is by the way. I told him that I retained my name on the GMC UK Register and had ceased clinical practice some four years previously, but remained actively interested in the protection of our profession’s integrity on both sides of the Irish Sea.

The Society of Clinical Psychiatrists was first formed in 1958, though my joining was c. 1963, (I have been chairman for the past 10 years). The Society focuses on supporting best psychiatric clinical practice and constructively monitoring and screening government-driven policy impinging perhaps unhelpfully on good practice.

It has a Doctors Support Group under its umbrella, the purpose of which is to assist doctors, across all specialties, who perceive themselves as being treated unfairly by the monopoly UK national health service. We most definitely are not a body that defends unprofessional medical conduct.

I continue to publish occasional pieces in Irish Medical Times. Some might say a meddlesome foot in both camps!

My specific reason for writing to him was to ask if the Irish Medical Council fitness to practise hearings were conducted adversarially or inquisitorially and whether he considered there was any possibility of returning to a more self-regulated and less externally governed process.

The conduct of the free press recently in Britain in response to an attempt by government to subject it to external governance (following the phone-hacking scandal) was interesting, I noted. It just rejected the government approach and produced a modified process of its own.

As it happened I received neither acknowledgement or response. But I kept it on file and waited. However, a burst of irritation finally caught up with me more than a year later on July 2, 2015. I once more telephoned the Council and asked to speak with Dr X, and immediately was put through.

Alas, there was no Dr X but a Mr X. There was no apology about my unanswered letter and no discussion or verbal exchange of any consequence.

Formal complaint

Then in February last I had a thought about John’s situation. I had of course continued in touch with him before and after his wife’s death. The thought came to me of making a formal complaint to the GMC in London about the, as I saw it, disgraceful conduct of the Manchester Medical Practitioner Tribunal associated with John’s appeal. I received a reply. At this juncture, I will not elaborate on the correspondence, which is interesting and continuing.

Sadly, John died from natural causes on April 7, aged 86, this year. About one month before his death he wrote formally to me in the briefest letter I ever received from him, the sole content of which was to assure and thank me: that he totally agreed with any and all of my endeavours to secure some justice for him.

I suspect he had intimations of his mortality and saw me as the last man standing and wanted to protect me from isolation as best he could. He had been ill but a fighter for good to the end.

I hope to elaborate further on developments arising from that formal complaint.

The post A GMC Odyssey appeared first on Irish Medical Times.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times: Opinion