Doctor condemned for 'failure to grass': GMC verdict amounts to order to report incompetent colleagues

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The Independent Online
THE GENERAL Medical Council has found a hospital consultant guilty of serious professional misconduct for failing to act over an incompetent colleague who eventually left a 33-year-old man with massive permanent brain damage.

Dr Sean Dunn, chairman of the anaesthetic division at the East Yorkshire NHS Trust, failed to trigger procedures for dealing with dangerous and incompetent doctors in spite of senior operating department assistants warning him a number of times that the performance of Dr Behrooz Irani, a locum anaesthetist, was not up to scratch.

In what amounts to an order to doctors to grass on incompetent colleagues, it is thought to be the first time that the GMC has found a doctor guilty of serious professional misconduct for failing to act.

A spokesman for the council said: 'This is intended to send the clearest possible signal to doctors that they must take action if they believe colleagues' professional performance to be deficient.'

Dr Irani, 58, was struck off by the GMC last year for 'deliberate and culpable' disregard of professional duties after he switched off alarms on anaesthetic equipment and left a patient, who turned blue and had no heart beat for seven minutes, in a permanent vegetative state.

At the hearing against Dr Dunn last week, the GMC was told by Mr Alan Wilkinson, a consultant surgeon at the Hull Royal Infirmary, where Dr Irani had also worked, that 'this man was not safe'. He had failed to prepare patients properly and one patient had to be revived with artificial respiration.

He told the hearing: 'In Hull we do not have competent anaesthetists growing on trees. I didn't make a formal complaint because it was either use him or have nobody. We are constantly having to do that because we are so understaffed.'

However, the GMC said others had complained about Dr Irani and that in finding Dr Dunn as chairman of the anaesthetics division guilty of serious professional misconduct for failing to act, it had taken account of staffing problems.

The GMC has taken no further action against Dr Dunn, 45, but it underlined in its judgment that all doctors have a duty to protect patients. 'Doctors who have reason to believe that a colleague's conduct or professional performance poses a danger to patients must act to ensure patient safety.'

After Dr Irani's removal from the medical register, Sir Robert Kilpatrick, president of the GMC, took the unusual step of writing to NHS managers and the medical royal colleges reminding doctors that they have a duty to report incompetent colleagues. The new judgment is intended to underline that.

Two working parties appointed by Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer, are due to report next month aimed at improving NHS procedures for dealing with incompetent doctors and at tightening up on locum appointments.

One recommendation may be to set up a central register of locums for hospitals to check against before making appointments. In Dr Irani's case he left Castle Hill hospital, Humberside, where the worst incident occurred, to work again as a locum at Chepstow, Gwent, where he was sacked after leaving a patient whose oxygen level was dangerously low to make a telephone call.

Doctors from ethnic minorities, who make up 18 per cent of the UK's 147,000 doctors, are six times more likely than white colleagues to be accused of professional misconduct, research by the Medical Practitioners' Union has found. Of 402 doctors brought before the GMC's conduct committee over the past 10 years, 233 (58 per cent) were from ethnic minorities.