Pool v General Medical Council [2014] EWHC 3791 (Admin)

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The Fitness to Practise Panel of the General Medical Council erred in suspending the Appellant's registration for a period of three months as it had not fully considered the available sanctions, namely a condition on the Appellant's practice.

Case summary

The Appellant is a psychiatrist who, at the material time, was employed as a consultant psychiatrist within a private secure hospital. In August 2011, he accepted instructions to provide an expert report in relation to A, a paramedic, for fitness to practise proceedings of the Health Professions Council ('the HPC'). A had been diagnosed with a personality disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. The Appellant prepared a report, as instructed, and A objected to this evidence being provided on the grounds that the Appellant was not an expert. This objection was dealt with at a HPC hearing in March 2012 and it was concluded that the Appellant did not have sufficient expertise in the field of personality disorders to qualify him as an expert. As such, the Appellant's evidence was not allowed and the Appellant was referred to the General Medical Council ('the GMC').

The Appellant's hearing before a Fitness to Practise Panel ('the Panel') of the GMC took place on 13 June 2014. The Panel found that the Appellant was not an expert in the field of general adult psychiatry and that he had failed to restrict his opinion to areas of which he had expert knowledge or direct experience and gave evidence on matters outside his professional competence. The Appellant's conduct was found to amount to misconduct, which amounted to impaired fitness to practise. By way of sanction, the Appellant's registration was suspended for a period of three months.

The Appellant challenged the findings of the Panel and further contended the finding that his report was inadequate, in that he failed to explain the reasons for his opinion that A's fitness to practise was wholly and indefinitely impaired. The Appellant further challenged the sanction which was imposed by the Panel.

It was held that the Panel was entitled to find that the Appellant was not an expert in the field of general adult psychiatry and had failed to restrict his opinion to areas in which he had expert knowledge or direct experience and to matters that fell within the limits of his professional competence. It was noted that the Appellant was simply not an expert in this field and therefore could not legitimately describe himself as such.

It was further held that the Panel was entitled to find that the Appellant had failed to give adequate reasons for his professional opinions and failed to display an adequate understanding of the role and responsibilities of an expert witness. This was a conclusion which the Panel was entitled to make and had given adequate reasons for this conclusion.

However, it was held that the sanction applied in this matter was not appropriate as the Panel had not explained why a condition prohibiting the Appellant from acting as a expert witness for a period of three months would not be a sufficient and workable condition. It was noted that the Panel was entitled to make a finding that the misconduct of the Appellant resulted in impaired fitness to practise and that this misconduct was serious when considering sanction. The decision to suspend the Appellant was found to be flawed and was replaced by a direction that the Appellant's registration be subject to a condition that for three months he should not accept instruction to act as an expert witness.