'Suicidal' Baby P doctor has left the country

Disciplinary inquiry adjourned after news of paediatrician's 'breakdown'
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A disciplinary inquiry into a doctor with a key role in the child abuse scandal involving Baby P was adjourned yesterday after she left the country and was said to be suicidal and unfit to appear before the General Medical Council. Dr Sabah Al-Zayyat, a consultant paediatrician, was due to appear before the GMC yesterday to face charges that she failed to spot injuries, including a broken back, to 17-month-old Peter Connelly days before he died in 2007.

But the hearing was halted after the disciplinary panel was told that Dr Zayyat's mental health had "broken down" and she had left the country.

Lawyers for the GMC heard a report from a consultant psychiatrist who had examined Dr Zayyat which said: "In my opinion, Dr Zayyat has become so seriously ill that she is unfit to defend herself before a public hearing and unfit to instruct her solicitors. The pressure on her has been such that her mental health has broken down completely, and the possibility of suicide is a very real one."

Mary O'Rourke QC, for Dr Zayyat, said her instructing solicitor was told that the doctor was no longer in the UK. The barrister said that, in the light of the psychiatrist's diagnosis, she considered herself to be without legal instructions from Dr Zayyat.

The GMC panel chairman Ralph Bergmann adjourned the hearing until tomorrow to give time for an independent expert for the GMC to consider Dr Zayyat's psychiatric reports.

In a statement issued yesterday by her medical defence organisation, Dr Zayyat said: "In my 28 years as a paediatrician I have been devoted to the care of children and have always tried to do my best for them. I have been and remain deeply affected by the shocking and tragic circumstances of baby Peter's death."

Dr Zayyat saw Baby Peter at St Ann's Hospital, Haringey, on 1 August 2007 and is accused of failing to carry out an "adequate examination", investigate his injuries or admit him to hospital. She told police investigating his death that she noted bruises on his body, face and back but did not carry out a full examination because the child was "miserable and cranky".

Two days later, Peter died in a blood-spattered cot in Haringey, north London, at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger. A post-mortem examination found he had probably suffered serious injuries, including a broken back and fractured ribs, before he was examined by Dr Zayyat. She denied that he could have had a broken back when she saw him.

The doctor was suspended from practice in November 2008 and the GMC announced earlier this month that she was facing misconduct allegations over her treatment of Peter.

The GMC hearing in London will also investigate whether she broke the rules by applying for a new job in the Irish Republic without informing the GMC, or telling her prospective new employer about the restrictions on her practice already imposed in the wake of the trial.

A report by the health regulator the Care Quality Commission last May criticised staffing levels at St Ann's. Dr Zayyat had no contact with Peter's social worker and was given no details about the child's previous hospital admissions, the commission noted. She was also one of only two consultants at the children's clinic when there should have been four.

Dr Zayyat had her contract with Great Ormond Street Hospital terminated after details of the Baby Peter case came to light. She has since launched a claim for damages against the hospital over her dismissal.