Doctor failed to protect Baby P, says GMC

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A GP who treated Baby P in the months leading to his death "deprived" himself of an opportunity to protect the child, the General Medical Council ruled today.

Dr Jerome Ikwueke breached his professional duty towards the little boy - now named as Peter Connelly - by failing to consider the possibility of child abuse when he visited his north London surgery with unusual bruising in October 2006, the GMC fitness to practise panel found.

He also failed to carry out an adequate examination of Peter eight days before his death and failed to share information with other professionals on a number of occasions, the panel found.

Peter died aged 17 months in Tottenham, north London, on August 3 2007 after suffering sustained abuse.

Peter had bruising on his chest and head when he saw Dr Ikwueke, 63, on October 13 2006 but his mother Tracey Connelly said he had fallen down the stairs the day before.

The GMC found the GP failed to consider the possibility of child abuse, failed to refer the baby for urgent paediatric assessment and failed to share information with other professionals.

Chairman Judith Worthington said: "If you had considered the possibility of child abuse you would have put yourself in a position to take appropriate steps for the care of the child.

"The interests of the child are paramount.

"You did not prioritise the welfare of the child who presented with unusual bruising and with a report from the mother that he had fallen down the stairs.

"You deprived yourself of the opportunity to protect this child and this was a serious breach of your professional duty towards Peter Connelly."

The GMC described Dr Ikwueke's acceptance of Peter's mother's account at "face value" as a failure.

At an appointment on December 11 2006, the GP referred Peter to hospital with bruising but the panel concluded he failed to inform Whittington Hospital that the child's mother had previously said he bruised easily or mention the October injuries because he "did not make the link".

Mrs Worthington told Dr Ikwueke: "You were in a unique position as the only clinician aware of this consultation and so you should have shared this important information with the hospital."

The panel also singled out Dr Ikwueke's failure to reply to a request from social services in July 2007 for a report on Peter and his family, going on to fail to share information with professionals about the toddler's "markedly changed" demeanour when he saw him for the last time on July 26 2007.

During the appointment, eight days before Peter's death, the GP observed that Peter seemed "withdrawn", "completely different" from the boy he had known before, and a "sorry sight" with head lice, bleeding to his ear and scabs on his scalp.

"His changed appearance and demeanour on this occasion, coupled with all that you knew about his past, should have alerted you to the very high likelihood of serious child abuse," said Mrs Worthington.

The panel concluded Dr Ikwueke should have referred Peter for urgent paediatric assessment and alerted others involved in his care.

Mrs Worthington said: "The panel considers that there was a duty on you to take the initiative and proactively contact social services and the health visitor and you did not do this."

This failure was reiterated when Tracey Connelly visited the GP without her son on July 30 and told him he had grab marks and she kept getting accused of harming Peter.

The panel said that, given the "alarming" state of Peter at the previous appointment and the mother's first mention of grab marks, the doctor should have "at the very least shared the information with other appropriate professionals such as the health visitor and the social worker".

Dr Ikwueke, who qualified in Nigeria and has worked as a GP for nearly 20 years, attended today's hearing in central London.

Having given its findings of fact on the allegations against the GP, the panel will consider if the matters amount to misconduct and if his fitness to practise is therefore impaired.

Dr Ikwueke denies misconduct.

Baby Peter suffered 50 injuries despite receiving 60 visits from social workers, doctors and police over the final eight months of his life.

His mother, her boyfriend, Steven Barker, and his brother, Jason Owen, were jailed at the Old Bailey in May last year for causing or allowing his death.

He denies misconduct.

The panel later began hearing evidence in relation to whether or not he was guilty of misconduct.

Dr Ikwueke contacted an associate medical director of the area's GP support directorate for advice after the Baby P investigations began, the GMC heard.

Speaking in support of Dr Ikwueke, West Drayton-based GP Dr Anthony Grewal described his "huge personal respect for him" after speaking to him and visiting his Grove Road, Tottenham, surgery on a number of occasions and said he would have "no hesitation" in registering with him as a patient.

"It was a real pleasure to work with him," he said. "He would listen and would move forward whenever he could."

When discussing the GMC's allegations, Dr Ikwueke's manner was "calm, it was disappointed, there was pain", according to Dr Grewal.

He said: "He did feel at that time that he had done what was reasonable."

Asked about the reaction of senior staff at Haringey PCT, the witness said: "All of them expressed great regret and disappointment that someone they had held in high regard, someone who they regarded as one of the better GPs, had ended up with the difficulties that have brought us here today."

The hearing was adjourned until 10am tomorrow.