Baby P doctor can challenge GMC ruling

Friday 29 October 2010 12:28 BST

A doctor accused of failing to spot that Baby P had a broken back days before his death was today given the opportunity to bring a High Court challenge in a bid to halt a disciplinary hearing.

Consultant paediatrician Dr Sabah Al-Zayyat's is seeking a ruling that a General Medical Council fitness to practise panel acted unlawfully and unreasonably when it refused to grant her "voluntary erasure" from the medical register on health grounds.

The GMC says granting her request would mean derailing the high-profile public misconduct hearing over her care of the toddler which is already under way.

Today Mr Justice Kenneth Parker, sitting in London, ordered that her legal challenge against the panel be heard in the week beginning November 22.

The judge also granted her a temporary "stay", preventing the panel from continuing the hearing until after her challenge is heard.

The judge said as the stay was for a short period of about three weeks, it was not likely to "derail" the disciplinary hearing if she lost the action - "an effect I would not have been willing to tolerate in this case".

But there was a "potential for injustice" if a temporary stay was not granted and the panel hearing was allowed to continue before the outcome of her application for judicial review was known.

The panel rejected Dr Al-Zayyat's request for erasure on Monday this week.

Chairman Ralph Bergmann said: "The panel considers that to accede to the application for voluntary erasure would avoid a public, and necessary, examination of the facts of this case."

He said the doctor's interests were outweighed by the need to maintain public confidence in the medical profession and in the GMC.

Dr Al-Zayyat examined 17-month-old Baby P - now named as Peter Connelly - at a child development clinic at St Ann's Hospital in Tottenham, north London, on August 1 2007 while working there as a locum consultant in paediatrics.

But she allegedly missed his injuries after deciding she could not carry out a full check-up because he was "miserable and cranky".

Two days later, Peter died at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and his brother. They were all jailed in May last year.

A post-mortem examination found he had probably suffered serious injuries, including a broken back and fractured ribs, before he was examined by the doctor, their trial at the Old Bailey heard.

The GMC accuses the doctor of knowing the toddler was on Haringey Council's child protection register but failing to carry out an adequate examination, failing to investigate the explanation offered for his injuries and failing to record whether she considered the possibility that he was the victim of child abuse.

Dr Al-Zayyat, who did not attend the start of the disciplinary hearing, was originally due to face GMC action in February.

The earlier session was adjourned after the panel heard she was "suicidal", unfit to defend herself and had left the country.

Mr Bergmann rejected claims Dr Al-Zayyat was "genuinely or involuntarily incapacitated" and could not take part in the hearing.

Today in the High Court, Mary O'Rourke QC, appearing for the doctor, said the case had provoked "huge press interest" and her client was being accused of "faking injury to avoid justice".

But the panel had "got a number of things wrong and reached conclusions with no evidence to support them".

The QC said Dr Al-Zayyat had an appointment with a consultant psychiatrist in Saudi Arabia tomorrow which could provide more evidence for the High Court.

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