1 Apr 2014

Calls for change as doctors still avoid justice

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Two years ago we reported that questions were being asked about how a surgeon, sacked by a Kent hospital trust in 2007, had avoided facing a General Medical Council (GMC) fitness to practise panel.

David Jackson, a surgeon for East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust, was facing 75 GMC charges involving 16 patients between 1989 and 2007.

The charges include botched reconstructive surgery for cancer, the wrong lump of breast tissue removed, and a woman’s abdomen punctured during a hernia repair.

Mr Jackson was also accused of poor note-taking, failing to get patient consent, not reading test results correctly, and failing to take urgent action when there was a possibility of cancer.

Last week, a medical tribunal panel (they took over from the GMC) allowed Mr Jackson to remove himself from the medical register because of ill health.  He did not have to defend himself against any of the charges.

He did not ever appear. The families were not given the chance to find out what had happened, nor were their concerns or voices taken into account.

Seven years since the process began, Mr Jackson can no longer practice as a surgeon, but if anyone went to the GMC register, nothing would tell them why this happened.

Two years in limbo

One of his patients, Jill Phillips, aged 68, of Kent, first went to see Mr Jackson  in 2004 with suspected bowel cancer.

Mr Jackson performed an operation that had not been recommended.

In 2006 she was readmitted to hospital but by this time she had a 10cm cancerous tumour. Mrs Phillips underwent the surgery first ordered but there were complications afterwards and she died on the operating table.

Mrs Phillips had eight children, a husband and grandchildren.  In the two years since I met some of those children, they have been in limbo.

Mr Jackson’s lawyer first went to judicial review to appeal a decision by the GMC not to have the hearing in private. He was unsuccessful. But that process took a year.

He sought a second judicial review after the medical tribunal panel refused to allow him voluntary erasure. Again, there were months of delays.  The court told the panel to re-examine their decision.

So last month they did, and agreed to voluntary erasure.

The Phillips family has been left angry and frustrated. They have spent years waiting for the answers and now it will never happen.

No response

Mr Jackson now runs a wedding venue business in Kent. He has repeatedly refused to respond to our requests for an interview or a statement.  The Medical Defence Union, which paid his legal fees, has also refused to respond to our questions about the length of time this case took.

But even the GMC is troubled by what happened. Next week, the chief executive Niall Dickson will meet the family to discuss their concerns.

And tomorrow the Law Commission will publish a draft bill which is aimed at speeding up the process. It will also look at an automatic ban on doctors convicted of serious crimes, and it would give the GMC the right of appeal if they don’t agree with a tribunal decision.

The GMC also hopes, without primary legislation (though this may not be possible), for the charges to be put on record even if a doctor has been allowed to voluntarily remove him or herself from the medical register.

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