Breach of Professional Standards?
The General Medical Council (GMC) brought misconduct proceedings against a private clinic consultant, Dr B, following allegations that she engaged in a sexual relationship with a former patient. In November 2016, her employer raised concerns of her conduct when it was discovered that she accessed the patient's medical records prior to the start of business hours. Dr B had accessed the patient's records following suspicions that the patient's former girlfriend had moved into his property. Following these allegations, the GMC launched an investigation into Dr B's medical conduct and the matter was referred to the Medical Practitioner Tribunal (MPT).
The GMC argued that Dr B's fitness to practice was impaired on the basis that she had commenced an improper emotional relationship with the patient which was sexually motivated. It was also contended that Dr B inappropriately accessed the patient's records on three occasions and wrote a referral letter on behalf of the patient whilst in a sexual relationship with him. The MPT were informed that Dr B and the patient were engaged and had a child together.
Dr B acknowledged that she was in a relationship with the patient but disputed that it occurred whilst he was a patient at the clinic. Similarly, Dr B's legal representative asserted that her professional relationship with the patient was sufficiently brief and the period between the end of their professional relationship and the beginning of their personal relationship was extensive that Dr B's conduct was not improper and did not constitute misconduct.
Ruling in favour of Dr B, the MPT considered her evidence to be credible as to her intentions towards the patient. The MPT conceded that Dr B was not in an emotional relationship with the patient in June 2016 as she did not have feelings towards him at the time but was keeping an open mind prior to her first coffee meeting with him. However, the MPT considered the coffee meeting between Dr B and the patient to be improper.
The MPT held that both parties only had two face to face consultations together whereas correspondence and telephone calls were mainly in relation to arranging consultations and providing test results which was expected in a private clinic. It was concluded that Dr B began a relationship with the patient after he was no longer a patient at the clinic.
On the question of impairment, the MPT established that Dr B's fitness to practise had not been impaired. However, the MPT considered her conduct to have departed from the standards expected of a medical professional. The tribunal imposed a warning on her registration on the basis of her inappropriate access to the patient's clinical records.
Maintaining professional standards is an important aspect of providing clinical care. As the tribunal made no finding of misconduct or an impaired fitness to practice, this decision nevertheless accentuates the need for registered medical practitioners to ensure that they practice within legal boundaries at all times.