Dr Helen Bright is an extrovert, capable consultant psychiatrist who, for lifestyle reasons, chooses to work as a locum. Or rather did, for she has now been constructively erased from the Medical Register.
Dr Bright remains on the Medical Register, but has a string of conditions on her practice so draconian that it is quite impossible for her to find work – see here. Because she cannot work, she has no opportunity – even if she accepted them, which she does not – to comply with the conditions. She has been sent down the salt mine, with no way out. She has been effectively erased from the Medical Register – without being erased. She has, instead, been constructively erased.
Now, there is no doubt that this is a cunning ploy on the part of those sinister panellists who sit on the General Medical Council’s (GMC) Fitness to Practice (FTP) panels. Dr Bright had certainly upset them, but her alleged misdemeanours were not so heinous that erasure or even suspension were deemed to be appropriate punishments. Indeed, had such punishments been applied, Dr Bright might well have won on appeal, on the grounds that the punishment was disproportionate given the crime. Nonetheless, the panellists were determined that Dr Bright should never work again, so they devised an alternative: apply conditions with which there was no realistic prospect of compliance. Dr Bright would be prevented from ever working again. Quite clever, really, if it wasn’t so sinister.
What, you may wonder, were Dr Bright’s crimes that so upset the GMC? Had she been killing patients? Goosing patients? Got her hands in the till?
Not a bit of it. In fact, the FTP panellists even agreed that she was a competent capable and caring doctor. Instead, her crimes relate to attitude and behaviour. She doesn’t behave in a way that the GMC find acceptable.
Dr Bright has in fact had two hearings before the GMC. The first, in 2003, came about because she had questioned the appropriateness of a nun wearing her habit at work in a psychiatric setting (there were other misdemeanours, but it was this one that caught the limelight – see here and here). Whatever your views on such matters, it is nonetheless a legitimate question to ask. But the GMC panellists – who, interestingly included a devout Christian amongst their ranks – did not approve. Dr Bright was found guilty of Serious Professional Misconduct and, on this occasion, her case was concluded with a strong reprimand.
Dr Bright’s second hearing, and the one that gave rise to the conditions attached to her practice, occurred in 2006/7. Her only unequivocal, unchallenged crime was calling a colleague – a nurse – a liar whilst “wagging a finger” at her. Well, sometimes nurses, and indeed doctors, do lie. There were various allegations which involved altercations with other clinical staff, and although some of these were found proven by the panellists, there remain questions as to whether the evidence was sufficient to justify the findings of fact.
Notwithstanding the possibly dubious nature of the proof, this was sufficient for the panellists to adopt a “pattern of behaviour”/no-smoke-without-a-fire line of reasoning which caused them to find Dr Bright guilty again of Serious Professional Misconduct – and this time round they decided enough was enough, Dr Bright had to be stopped – and so they applied conditions to her practice that now leave her unable to work – and unable to appeal.
This is a gross abuse of power by the GMC. Certainly Dr Bright has been intemperate with colleagues – but then there cannot be many doctors who have not at times behaved in such a way. There is no doubt about her clinical abilities (and it is noteworthy that none of the complaints filed with the GMC came from patients or relatives). To deprive a competent and capable doctor of their livelihood and ability to practice for what amount to a series of politically incorrect blunders is both disproportionate – and sinister.
Even more worryingly, Dr Bright is not alone in suffering at the hands to the GMC. Her case also raises a number of other concerns about the GMC’s handling of complaints about doctors. Perhaps it is time we began to question the attitudes and behaviour of those who sit in judgement at Euston Towers.