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October’s Medical Law News

NMC launch support for complaints, dentist suspended after a patient death, and a rise in GMC referral cases.

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.

NMC launches support service for fitness to practise complaints

Source: Nursing in Practice (29/10/19)

On World Mental Health Day, the NMC announced a new confidential support service for nurses and midwives. The 12-month pilot aims to offer advice for staff facing complaints about their fitness to practise. Alongside this, the NMC is designing new guidance to aid nurses and midwives in demonstrating their ability to practise. 

The support service is called Careline and it aims to signpost nurses and midwives to relevant health or wellbeing services. Andrea Sutcliffe, CBE, chief executive and registrar at the NMC, said that fitness to practise complaints can have damaging physical and mental implications for medical staff from “being under such scrutiny” and claims the service is an “important step forward” to solving this.

Our take

The launch of a new service for fitness to practise complaints demonstrates an increased commitment from the NMC to support nurses and midwives. It indicates a positive step forward, where extra assistance is being offered to ensure the wellbeing of those accused of poor fitness to practise.

It is also encouraging to see that the NMC is publishing a report to guide nurses and midwives in tackling these complaints and demonstrating their fitness to practise. The regulator needs to ensure medical staff are offered a balance of support and practical advice, to ensure their case can be resolved as quickly as possible. Nurses and midwives must be aware of the legalities of a fitness to practise complaint, to ensure they come out of the investigation with justice.

Dentist suspended from practising after patient dies

Source: Telegraph (29/10/19)

A Surrey dentist has been banned this month from practising for one year after his patient “bled to death” in 2017. Dr Tushar Patel treated the patient for advanced gum disease but failed to dress the wounds appropriately, leading to a severe loss of blood. As a result, the patient was taken to A&E after facing a haemorrhage from the tooth extraction site. 

Mr. Patel was aware the patient was taking blood-thinning medicine, causing the GDC to rule that he “failed to weigh up the risks” before treatment. After receiving a suspension of 12 months from the panel, the maximum period available, Mr. Patel can return to practise in one year. With a previously clean record, he expressed remorse and issued an apology to the patient’s family. Mr. Patel accepted the consequences of his actions after his fitness to practise was declared as impaired during the professional conduct hearing.

Our take

Mr. Patel failed to demonstrate fitness to practise after breaching clinical care. The patient death resulted from dental extraction and Warfarin treatment, outlining the part Mr. Patel played in the fatality. Despite the poor treatment, he has been permitted to begin practise again after suspension, continuing his 30 years of experience as a dentist. His years of experience with no prior blemishes on his record, along with the remorse Mr. Patel demonstrated to both the panel and family, were enough to convince the regulator that this was a one-off incident.

Had Mr. Patel held previous suspensions or poor references, it is possible the outcome to his long term practise would have been jeopardised. Mr. Patel’s co-operation with the GDC during the investigation and his subsequent expression of remorse led to the most favourable outcome in this case and helped to avoid being permanently struck off the register. It is important that medical professionals facing similar investigations are proactive and communicative throughout the process, and work closely with an experienced medical defence lawyer to achieve the best possible outcome.

GMC referring increasing cases to Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service

Source: Pulse (29/10/2019), OnMedica (30/10/2019)

There has been a 40% increase in case referrals reported by the GMC to the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS). This rise comes despite complaints made to the GMC staying relatively consistent, but the GMC has claimed that a contributing factor is that it is seeing more serious and complex complaints that warrant referral to a tribunal.

The GMC claims referral thresholds remain unchanged, noting that the number of cases within fitness to practise has increased, causing a rise in referrals to the MPTS. The impact of case referrals was emphasised by a BMA spokesperson who reiterated the “profound and distressing effect” which fitness to practise investigations can have on medical staff. They remind readers that cases should be referred only when they “meet the correct criteria and are fully justified”.

Our take

If a case does require referral to the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, it is a necessary process which medical staff must engage with. However, if the referral is unnecessary, it could have a detrimental impact on registrants. There are severe consequences to both the mental and financial wellbeing of those involved in cases, therefore it is crucial that investigations are not prolonged beyond their need.

It is reassuring to see the GMC referring fitness to practise cases to the MPTS, making it clear they take investigations seriously. Healthcare professionals need to be aware that smaller warnings or incidents can be escalated into serious referrals where the GMC sees fit. It is clear that medical professionals must stay alert for any threshold changes for referrals to the MPTS over the next few months to understand their rights.

Related services

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 October’s stories:

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