19 Mar 2012

Doctors still working despite being restricted or banned

A Channel 4 News investigation has discovered doctors who have carried on working despite being suspended or having restrictions placed on their practices by the General Medical Council (GMC).

The investigation found that in the past three years alone, at least 17 already disgraced doctors breached conditions or suspensions handed down by the General Medical Council’s (GMC) “fitness to practise panels”.

They include a former locum GP who injected a patient with heroin so that he could use the rest of the vial to feed his addiction. He was found to have worked in defiance of two separate suspensions.

Another GP, sanctioned by the GMC for failing to diagnose meningitis in a baby who later died, continued to work whilst breaching several conditions and had fresh allegations brought against him during that time.

Channel 4 News has also discovered a doctor who was erased from the medical register five years ago and was secretly filmed by an undercover reporter giving a consultation at his cosmetic clinic.

A top lawyer said the footage showed him presenting himself as a licensed practitioner – which if proven would be a criminal offence – and the GMC now plan to pass on the case to the authorities.

These findings will increase concerns about policing of the medical profession, and highlight how easy it is for medical practitioners with a track record of malpractice to ignore disciplinary sanctions brought against them.

It also means that members of the public have unknowingly been treated by medical professionals deemed unfit to do so by their professional body.

Stuart Green graphic

Heroin addict doctor breached suspension twice

Heroin addict Stuart Green, 47, from Stoke Newington in north London, worked despite being suspended on two different occasions.

While working as a locum GP in Camberwell Green surgery in south London in 1996, Green forged prescriptions for diamorphine and pethadine for a terminally ill cancer patient, but would actually use the medical grade heroin himself.

Fellow GPs at the surgery became suspicious while checking his prescription records, and when one of Green’s relatives approached the surgery to voice concerns about his health. Green was sacked and the police were informed.

He avoided a jail term but was banned from working by the GMC for an indefinite period of time.

But less than a year later, in 1997, whilst still suspended, he was working as a locum in Basildon, Essex. When he saw a patient complaining of headaches, Green injected the young man with heroin, using the remainder of the dose himself.

The young father-of-three was rushed to hospital, and again, Green was fired and the police called.

This time, he was handed a three-year jail sentence but was later remarkably cleared to work again by the GMC, on the proviso that he informed future employers of his convictions.

Having found locum work in east London in 2007, he failed to adhere to the condition, was found out and suspended, but one of the surgeries employing him was not informed about the sanction and Green worked for two months before being struck off.

Mr Green was unavailable for comment.

Read Green's full story
Godwin Duru graphic

Restricted doctor carried on working

Another doctor who ignored disciplinary rulings against him and continued to work was Dr Godwin Duru.

He is currently serving a second suspension after new allegations were made against him while he was breaking his original sanctions.

In 2005, the Nigerian saw nine-month-old baby Joshua Davis at A&E in Barnet Hospital in north London, where he was working as a consultant GP.

He discharged the infant and told his grandparents to give him Nurofen and Calpol.

But a matter of hours later, Joshua was rushed to the hospital again and he died shortly after arriving. The post-mortem revealed that he had meningitis and septicaemia.

Dr Duru was called before the GMC’s fitness to practise panel four years later, in 2009, where he had conditions placed on his licence to practise: to have a workplace supervisor and to tell his employers, including out-of-hours provider Herts Urgent Care (HUC), that he had been brought before the panel.

Because Duru’s record was clean when he started working at HUC, bosses did not check the status of his registration, and the doctor failed to tell them that he was now subject to restrictions and continued to work.

And while working in breach of the rules, fresh allegations were made against Duru, the nature of which have yet to be disclosed by the GMC, although he is expected to be summoned before a new fitness to practise panel within the next two months.

Dr Duru said: “The GMC have systematically failed to administer justice and fairness.

“In my 10 years of active service as a GP in Barnet, I am proud to say that my record of providing high quality medical care was impeccable. My complaint rate from my patients was well below both national and local PCT average.

“I regret not informing Herts Urgent Care about the conditions on my practice. The GMC has admonished me for that.”

Baby Joshua’s family: Why bother sanctioning him in the first place?’

Michael Sheill

Michael Sheill, who was later convicted of dangerous driving, has been erased from the register. But last year, he advertised his services as a cosmetic doctor, setting up blogs, Twitter profiles and uploading instructional videos on administering Botox on to YouTube.

And although you do not have to be a registered doctor to administer Botox injections it is illegal for anyone who is not licensed to practise medicine to represent they are registered.

GMC guidelines say that “doctors must be explicit and proactive about their GMC status.

“They must make it clear whether they are registered with or without a licence to practise. To present themselves as registered with or without a licence when they are not, is a criminal offence.”

A Channel 4 News reporter secretly filmed a consultation with Sheill at one of his cosmetic clinics in Ashford, Kent, and a top medical lawyer who studied the footage said he had given the impression of being a registered doctor.

Criminal barrister Guy Gozem QC from Lincoln House Chambers, said: “The whole setting and everything that appeared to happen may well give an impression that this was a doctor, a surgery, an appointment, a consultation, a prescription, an appointment for the treatment to be administered.

“He was offered the opportunity to deal with the question about being a doctor as opposed to [a hairdresser] and they were both met by silence, which may speak volumes.”

He added: “He doesn’t have a licence to practice, he is not registered. He has been erased from the medical register.”

In a response Dr Sheill said he was legally allowed to use the title doctor and to administer Botox.

He added: “The journalist who attended the clinic under the pretence of obtaining treatment never asked at the consultation if I was registered with the General Medical Council. If she had done so, she would have been told no as you do not have to be registered with the General Medical Council to administer Botox.”

Soutzos Heal graphic

Other doctors who breached restrictions and suspensions handed down by the GMC included:

• “Predatory” Harley Street psychiatrist Theodore Soutzos, whose medical posts were restricted to supervised posts in April 2008, and who had to tell his employers about his disciplinary hearings. Soutzos had seduced a suicidal patient before warning her not to tell anyone and destroy his career. The patient then threw herself in the Thames, jumped in front of a police car and took five overdoses in 18 days.The private consultant also had “improper” relationships with two other vulnerable patients. But Soutzos ignored the restrictions and went on to carry out work for a private client, and was later struck off after the GMC found out about the deception.

• Top surgeon David Heal from Brighton was told that he could not work in unsupervised posts in August 2009, after telling a speed camera operator who was attempting to photograph his car: “If you ever come to me for treatment, I will make sure you die.” Three weeks later, he had already secured work as an unsupervised locum doctor at Horton Hospital in Banbury. And just three days into his new job, Heal “became irate” with a patient, leading to fresh complaints made about him. Later that year, Heal committed common assault on a man who attempted to repossess his car, but did not inform the GMC of the conviction and continued to work at Horton Hospital until he was struck off in November 2010.

Sir Donald Irvine, the former president of the General Medical Council, said that the investigation’s disclosures provided evidence that the current disciplinary system does not protect patients as well as it should do and called for a more rigorous approach.

Sir Donald said that although “[doctors breaking sanctions] very often… [the system] is manifestly not working if any get through.

“A panel which is charged with protecting the public… will have imposed conditions because of something in the doctor’s practice, health or general conduct which they deem to put patients at risk.

He added: “It’s tantamount to the doctor saying to patients, ‘I regard you with contempt. I regard the public with contempt. I regard my profession with contempt and I regard the [GMC] with contempt.'”

Sir Donald continued: “I think some of these cases slipping through the system indicate that something tougher is required.

“It could be made tougher now by clarity about sanction: if you break conditions on your practice, that is to say you should lose your license.”