By Shane Phelan - Irish Independent - 13.04.2023 - [IRELAND] - [Unknown] A consultant doctor facing prosecution following sexual misconduct allegations has been allowed by the High Court to continue seeing female patients provided he is accompanied by a chaperone. Three separate complaints were made to Gardaí about the doctor, who cannot be identified for legal reasons. He worked as a consultant in a HSE hospital until last July and continues to work in private practice at a clinic where he has around 500 patients.
The Medical Council felt the matter was “extremely serious” and warranted the temporary suspension of the doctor’s registration and orders prohibiting him from practising medicine pending the outcome of the criminal case and potential fitness-to-practise proceedings.
However, the president of the High Court rejected an application from the council, saying the fact a criminal prosecution has been brought does not, in and of itself, mean an interim suspension order should be made.
Mr Justice David Barniville said measures short of a suspension could be taken to ensure the protection of the public, and he was prepared to accept undertakings that the doctor would not examine female patients without a chaperone being present. The doctor is not due to go on trial until mid-to-late 2024. His lawyers argued that any suspension was likely to bring an end to his career. He denies the claims he faces.
The court was told the doctor had practised for almost four decades without incident before the allegations were made against him.
The Medical Council became aware of issues with the doctor in June 2021. A month earlier, he submitted an annual retention of registration form stating he was not aware of any criminal prosecutions in process against him.
However, within weeks he contacted the council to say he had “inadvertently” answered the question incorrectly.
Soon after, solicitors for the doctor told the council he had been interviewed and was co-operating fully with a Garda investigation. In July 2021, the council decided to make a complaint to its preliminary proceedings committee for investigation.
Although the doctor offered undertakings to the council not to examine female patients in the absence of a chaperone, the council decided last September to apply for his temporary suspension.
The application was heard over several days last November, but the decision was published only in recent days.
The council argued the undertaking given by the doctor was not sufficient to protect the public, but lawyers for him argued that, in the year between the council being made aware of the matter and deciding to seek his suspension, he had continued to practise without any complaints being made.
Mr Justice Barniville said that while the council had “no alternative” but to bring the application, he was satisfied the protection of the public could be adequately served by the doctor giving certain undertakings to the court. As well as using a chaperone, the doctor must get an initial general consent to treatment from patients and specific consent for particular examinations.
He will also have to provide the Medical Council with regular updates in relation to the pending criminal proceedings and a commitment to immediately inform the council if any further allegations are made against him.
In reaching the decision, the judge said he had conducted a balancing exercise, weighing the necessity to protect the public against various rights and entitlements of the doctor, including the right to earn a livelihood, the right to his good name and the presumption of innocence.
The judge said he also attached some weight to submissions on the potential impact on the doctor’s patients. The court was told there was only a limited number of consultants in his field in the area where he practises, and they lacked capacity to take on his patients. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Dignity4Patients, whose helpline is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm.