Case Summary - Bhatnagar v General Medical Council [2014] EWCH 2562 (Admin)

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The claimant was a consultant ophthalmologist. In 2009, the defendant General Medical Council's ("the GMC") Fitness to Practise Panel imposed on the claimant a six month suspension in respect of deficient management of a clinic which had been under his control (the 2009 allegations). In 2011, N, a former employee at one of the claimant's clinics, made a number of allegations against the claimant. In 2012, the GMC informed the claimant that, following a review of the case, the new allegations made by N were inextricably linked with the 2009 allegations and, therefore, would be dealt with together.

In January 2013, the Medical Practitioners' Tribunal Service's Interim Orders Panel ("IOP") imposed on the claimant a 12-month interim suspension order. In July and October 2013, the IOP reviewed the interim suspension order and determined that an interim order of conditions was appropriate. After the October 2013 review, N provided a supplementary statement to the GMC in which he made further allegations against the claimant and another witness, M, alleged that the claimant had made false declarations in respect of his insurance policy. In February 2014, the claimant was sent a letter inviting him to comment on those allegations (the Rule 7 letter).  In April 2014, a differently constituted IOP reviewed the interim order and determined that an interim suspension order was most appropriate. In so determining, the IOP stated that it was mindful of the need for consistency between IOP decisions and the fact that the proceedings included new allegations that were not before the IOP in 2013.

The claimant applied, under s 41A(10) of the Medical Act 1983, for the termination of the interim suspension order. It fell to be determined whether the decision of the IOP was unnecessary, disproportionate and wrong in all the circumstances. The claimant submitted that: (i) the IOP had concluded that it had been considering new allegations that had not been before it in 2013, an approach which had been flawed, because the focus and substance of the allegations had not changed; and (ii) the IOP had failed to consider whether an order for interim conditional registration would be appropriate and proportionate.

The application would be dismissed.

(1) The IOP had been entitled to reach the conclusion that it had. It had been clear from the IOP's determination that it had had a clear understanding of the nature of the case that had been made against the claimant at earlier hearings. The claimant had attached too much weight to the word 'new'. There had been no allegations at the earlier hearings which had pre-dated the Rule 7 letter. Further, whilst the IOP had known that an insurance allegation had been made, the particulars of the allegation in the form set out in the Rule 7 letter had been based on new evidence. The IOP, as it had recognised, had to exercise its own independent judgment and make a decision, having considered all the circumstances relating to the case, including any new information that was available to it in April 2014 (see [29]-[31] of the judgment).

(2) The criticism of the IOP, that it had failed to consider whether an order of interim conditions would be appropriate and proportionate, had to be rejected. The claimant had not sought such an order. The IOP had plainly been of the view that neither revocation of the interim order, nor maintenance of the order of interim conditions, had been appropriate and proportionate. The IOP had been entitled to decide that, in the current circumstances, having regard to the wide ranging and extremely serious nature of the allegations and the weight that it had attached to them, the only appropriate and proportionate order had been one of suspension (see [32] of the judgment).

Reproduced with the kind permission of LexisLibrary.